This is a series written by Tamieka Small, adopted from Ethiopia to Australia.
‘Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but rising every time we fall’.
One of the quotes that has sat for me since my high school years is this one; one I feel embodies the symbolism of the phoenix rising from the ashes, much like the previous quote before this is rebuilding ourselves anew. This one is more about never giving up no matter what. That a quitter will never be a winner, but a failure, or someone who fails but continues to try will one day in fact be a winner and be successful in whatever endeavours they find themselves on. Inner strength can be evident in the moments we pick ourselves back up and keep moving forward. Not giving into our most basic instincts and our egos (shadow self) or a negative-self-talk is so fundamental to our survival and wellbeing.
And every time we fall and pick ourselves back up we learn something new and shed outdated beliefs or perspectives that no longer serve us, whether those beliefs be about ourselves, the world at large or how we perceive love or success. In each mistake there is a new lesson to be embraced and a new aspect pf ourselves to be explored, and we can expand and become more than we ever imagine ourselves to be; and no longer limit our potential by limiting beliefs or perspectives which is essential to personal growth and life.
Guest post by Mike, adopted from Hong Kong to New Zealand.
I remember growing up in an orphanage until the age of 6. Some of my memories include playing in the little park which had a pond and loving nature, the little frogs and birds. When we were naughty, the older kids would hide rubber spiders in our beds saying they only came ’cause we naughty, till one night I got angry, sad at it and cut it in half – laughing and crying at same time, chucking it at other kids. I was always being the big brother figure.
I remember getting pushed off a stage and hurting my head. That’s where my fear of falling and being scared of heights comes from. It was heaps of fun growing up in orphanage. There I learnt what family was, my culture, my heritage, my language, I had a sense of belonging and identity. I was the smart but naughty kid!
I remember the last day before getting taken to New Zealand for adoption. My birth mother came to see me to say goodbye but I didn’t recognise her. She could only spend a couple of minutes with me because she didn’t do the paperwork. So for a while, that was always on my mind about so many “what ifs” and if it was my fault that I got taken away because I didn’t recognise her.
When I got adopted at age 6 and taken away to New Zealand by a white European couple, I had to re-learn and adapt so fast. It was all about fitting in and surviving!
My adoptive parents were not ready for the challenges that came with an older adoptee with a sense of identity. There was a lot of physical and emotional abusive. It was a crap family environment where they were abusive to each other, physically as well. They also had 2 foster kids who were spoilt! I was the black sheep of the family. I got bullied at school then would come home to be abused and beaten up there too. It made me grow up real fast and made me tougher.
They often used their abusive ways to try and mend me into the child they wanted. This of course, pushed me further and further to the point of running away at an early age, depression, attempted suicide, self harm, etc. At age 10, I ran away from home and ended up with a bunch of street kids for a week until they turned on me and beat me up, leaving me bloodied for the police to come pick me up and take me back to my adoptive parents. They tried so hard to mend and fix me with various psychologists, counsellors, etc., but to no avail.
My adoptive parents eventually got divorced when I was aged 15 and I ended up with my adoptive mother. Things went more downhill after that, which eventually lead me to a life of crime. I loved life as a youth criminal, the excitement of shoplifting, stealing, breaking into cars, etc., being part of a youth street gang. But this eventually led me to prison at age 19. I put 2 white boys in hospital from a group fight. The reason for the fight was because of my own racist views against the white people because at that time, I didn’t know all the issues and the mental state of mind I was in.
I got out of prison at age 21 and went back to my adoptive dad. It didn’t last very long because he was still stuck in that mentality that he could bully me and mould me into that model citizen that every dad can dream of. Much to his disappointment, I was in a deep state of depression, denial and hatred because I was so institutionalised – prison was kinda like the orphanage. I ended up joining the Triads and becoming a leader.
I have no regrets with the adoption, my past and everything that has happened as I have achieved so much through sport. I represented my country/homeland in sports, travelled the world, married the girl of my dreams, etc., but as I get older (37 in July), I am afraid of what future I have. My wife wants kids but I don’t have a job or stable income. I don’t want my kid(s) to go through what I did. In a gang, the lifestyle that I live, it’s hard when you have a criminal history, PTSD and a sense of fear of rejection.
A few years ago, my birth mother found me on Facebook. I went to Hong Kong to meet up with her a couple of times. It was disappointing. Maybe I expected the movie dramatic emotional meet up – but it was nothing like that! I was just like, “Oh yep! You’re my mum”. But we couldn’t communicate much due to the language barrier, so it was a bit disappointing. I have half sister who speaks English who lives with my mum. I found out my mother was only 18 years old when she had me and at the time. She was living in a women’s home. Her mother (my grandmother) was divorced at age 15 and had no ability to give her 2 girls stability – so she sent them to a girls home to survive.
Despite all I’ve lived, I guess what I want to say to adoptive parents is, you have a responsibility to the child you adopt – be a positive mother/father figure to the child that you’re bringing into your world. Try to have a better understanding of the challenges that your inter-racial child may have.
Mike welcomes your messages in response to his story.
We are in the midst of unprecedented times with COVID-19 taking over the world but as an Asian intercountry adoptee raised in a white adoptive country, I find myself once again, in that uncomfortable “in-between” space. I have lived the experience of sitting between two very different cultures and races – east and west. I am a product of both but yet at this point in time, I feel ashamed at how human beings can behave and treat each other when ultimately, we are of the same human race.
I have been raised with the white mindset of my adoptive country but I have also spent over a decade embracing my once removed cut-off Asian heritage. My current pride in being Asian didn’t happen easily because I was adopted in an era without education to advise parents that our cultural and racial heritage is of immense importance. I had to put years of concerted effort into reclaiming back my birth heritage, race and culture. So I find this period of overt racism against Chinese/Asians as very confronting. It reminds me of how I once use to hate my own Asian-ness. I was teased as a child for how different I looked — picked on for my slanting eyes, flat nose, and non European profile. I grew up isolated being the only non-white person in my community as a child. I know that for many Asian adoptees (and many adoptees of colour) right now, we are having to relive those racist moments all over again.
What has been particularly triggering recently, is to see the American President choosing to consciously speak about the COVID-19 disaster with pointed fingers at a whole race, calling it the “Chinese Virus”. I felt personally offended. Did you?
When a leader of the world’s superpower labels a whole race in such a negative manner it overtly tells us that racism is very real, acted out by those highest in power. They make it appear as if it’s “normal”, “okay”, “justified” to do so —- but racism should never be okay! So adoptive families, if you haven’t recognised that we intercountry and transracial adoptees experience racial micro aggressions every day, I hope that this period in time, is your wake up call!
Racism is one of the most common issues we intercountry adoptees end up having to navigate. Facing racism and having to constantly explain why we look Asian (or any colour different to the majority) but speak, think and act like a white person in our adoptive country is a constant challenge. This has been documented in many of the resources we adoptees contribute to and create, eg. The Colour of Difference and The Colour of Time. Sadly, not all adoptive parents recognise the racism we experience and many are definitely not equiped to know how to prepare us for it.
Some more-awoke-adoptive-parents have recently asked what they can do to support their adoptive children who are of Asian descent. I’m sharing this advice from Mark Hagland, a Korean adoptee who has been co-educating adoptive parents at this facebook group for many years:
“I think that parents absolutely need to find ways to explain the situation and the environment to their Asian children. Of course, whatever they say must be age-appropriate and sensitive to the individual temperament and stage of development of their individual child/ren. And every child is different. But all children deserve the truth–sensitively and lovingly shared, of course.
Some parents will inevitably say things like, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly harm my child! I want her/him to remain innocent for as long as possible!” Any such sentiment reveals white privilege. All children of colour end up experiencing racism. The least loving thing possible is to avoid preparing one’s child to experience the inevitable. Far better to lovingly explain to one’s child that there are going to be difficult experiences out there, but that they will be okay because they will be supported by you, their parents.
I often tell parents of young children that even the youngest children can understand the concept of fairness. Start with that, if you have a young child. Start with the idea that some people are mean/unfair just because of how someone looks or where they’re from. It IS mean/unfair. With a young child, we need to prepare that child without imparting fear or trauma.
I made sure as a young adult to move to a very large, diverse, welcoming, progressive city in order to live in psychological comfort. And this is literally the first time as an adult that I’m even the least bit worried about experiencing aggressions or micro aggressions against me personally, in the city where I live. I believe it will mostly be okay, but who can say for certain?“
I have also been like Mark and as an adult, I ended up relocating myself to a city area that is much more diverse than where I grew up. In my city of Sydney, Australia, I have found a place to belong where I’m not the only Asian or non white person in my community. I have also married into an Asian family which has helped me immensely to embrace my race.
For young adult adoptees, if you are struggling at the moment due to the increase in racism you see directed towards Asians from COVID-19, I highly recommend joining adoptee led groups and communities where you can connect with others and be supported by your peers. There’s nothing like being able to freely speak amongst a group of people who understand what it’s like! The validation and peer support is invaluable. If you have found yourself hugely triggered and struggling emotionally, please seek out further professional support and surround yourself with a strong support network of people who understand what it’s like to be a racial minority. Here is also a link with some great tips.
Right now it’s not an easy time for anyone, but for adoptees and any people of colour, it is a heightened time for being a target of racist acts/comments and/or for being triggered. Please take time to nurture yourself and join into communities who do their best to support and understand you. Let’s all:
Hello, you may call me FaerieWarrior and I’m a Chinese artist who was adopted to America in 1997 at around thirteen months old. I was raised by a single mother and have always had a passion for drawing. I currently hold a degree in education (k-12) and art. I would love to go back to college and potentially get a master’s in art.
Above is one of my drawings which I call “Locked”. It expresses how after I was bullied in 7th/8th grade and how I always kept my feelings and emotions to myself. I tended to keep people at a distance and never really open myself up.
The bullying started halfway through 6th grade and got more intense at 7th/8th grade. The most popular guy in our class came up to me during recess and told me he had a crush on me. Me, being an intellectual and not liking this guy at all, said: “Ew, no!” So for the next two years, I was bullied about various things from my appearance, my hobbies, and my so-called ‘boyfriend’ (my childhood friend who went to a different school and no, we weren’t dating).
I should probably mention that around 85-90% of my class were white Americans. The other ethnicities in our class were: one Hispanic girl, one Filipino girl and one Chinese girl (me). Given we all went to a Catholic K-8 school, we were all raised Catholic as well.
I was mostly bullied about how “long and disgusting” my hair was (I still proudly keep my hair long) together with my love of reading. While I read, some people would throw random objects at me to see if I would notice. Markers, paper clips, eraser heads, etc were the main projectiles. One time in music class, the guy who professed his crush on me threw a broken pen that hit me in the check.
The ‘friend’ group I was a part of, mostly ignored me unless they needed help with school work (I was usually given the task of doing the experiments and explanations for science labs). Other times they would exclude me from their conversations or small group projects with the snide, “You should work with other people and try to make friends,” while they continued to work with the same exact people. Such hypocrites.
Not only that, there were two (or three, I don’t really remember) guys who would be super creepy and oddly sexual towards me. When the jerk who initiated it walked around the classroom, he would intentionally walk behind me and stroke my back as he went by. Every single time. That led me to hate being touched, especially when it’s from a stranger or unexpected. That guy even had the gall to tell me that he’d, “Make me the next teen mom” (back when that television show was a “thing”). I replied with, “You’d never get close enough to try,” while kicking him in the shin under the table.
There was only ever one incident where my ethnicity was under fire. Some random weird kid who had a love/hate relationship with me called me a racial slur (some days he’d claim he was in love with me and the next day he’d hate my guts). I was a bit confused since I had never heard that word before in my life. I went home and looked it up in the dictionary. I didn’t really particularly care because I had a sense of purpose about who I was and what I’m here to do.
Well, I’ve been rambling on for a while so if you want to know more about this time of my life, I have a story speedpaint where I draw and tell you a more in-depth about my younger years (it’s around 20 minutes long so hope you got some popcorn). You can find it here.
When I reached high school, I started clashing with my adoptive mom. I wasn’t performing at the level she wanted and each year from sophomore to senior year I struggled in one class. We also had many differing ideas on what my career path should be (she did not support me being a professional artist). I constantly felt like I was a disappointment and had no worth. From my resulting ruined self-esteem, destroyed confidence and years of being bullied and abused, those feelings grew into a general feeling of disappointment in my talents.
Anyway, for a more light-hearted conversation, above is a drawing I made for the Chinese New Year 2020. It was a fun drawing to make. I was born in the year of the rat and I always enjoy ‘celebrating’ Chinese New Year. Every year I would get my mom to buy me Chinese food and we’d change the stuffed animal that hangs out in the kitchen (we have all the Chinese zodiac beanie babies). The girl has the Chinese symbol for “metal” on her chest because this year the element is metal. The lucky colours for rats are gold, blue, and green. So I incorporated gold in the dress and blue in the eyes of the mouse. The lucky flower for rats is the lily so I added them in as hair accessories since I always wear a flower in my hair.
I was raised with lots of books about my home country and its culture/traditions so I grew up always proud of my heritage. I really love the idea/concepts of the zodiac and I would totally nerd out with it (ie I compiled notes about personality traits, relationship dos and don’ts, etc). When I was a toddler, my mom took me to Chinese lessons in which I was too shy and antisocial to really participate in, which is something I regret now.
So with my head in the clouds and with all my past experiences, I enjoy making art and stories that hopefully will make an impact on others in the future. If you would like to see more of my work, you can follow me on DeviantArt.
Denny walked into the library and I greeted him at the circulation desk. Immediately, I felt that he was my soulmate. Later on, I found out he felt the very same thing. He’d visited a few more times, and then disappeared for a few months. In that time, I started learning how to fly by myself. I worked rigorously at the library, explored Oahu, shyly started dating using Tinder, and one day we ran into each other at a gym–on the staircase of all places. He gave me his number. The next day, we met at a natural grocers and drove to the coastline together to see the ocean at night. We stared up at a star-filled sky, gazed in awe at billowy clouds, and found out how similar we are to each other. There was an ease and a familiarity with him that I’d never felt before. We think alike, I told him, astounded.
We’re on the same wave, he said.
Starting a relationship has been terrifying for me as an intercountry, Filipino-American adoptee because of my past.
Last night, he told me he wanted to grow old with me. I told him that I’m scared, and he asked me why.
This question made me think, really think.
A Moment of Self-Discovery
The answer to that question, let me to self-discovery. I realized that as a child, I lost the first person I’d ever loved and that was my brother. He was damaging to me and must have broken my heart a billion times, until I moved out at 18. And only in my early 30’s, did I start to heal with therapy. All this time, I’d become extremely absorbed in personal work, art, creative outlets, academics and spirituality, basically avoiding relationships because deep down, I’d been so scared of being close to anyone. This is because I’d been scared to lose what it is that I love the most.
I dug deeper and finally came to a conclusion.
I never thought anyone could ever love me, I said.
My Fear of Falling in Love
This fear, I realized, came from the trauma I’d experienced in my early childhood. I felt that this stemmed back to having felt abandoned by being orphaned as a baby. Those feelings followed me in my early years living in an orphanage. It clung to me through my adoption and relocation to the Midwest, and onward, since my big brother, also adopted from the Philippines, had extreme PTSD. And even though I loved him deeply, he triggered and traumatized me until I was 18.
Starting a relationship is challenging, but Denny’s words of hope have been the seed to a new beginning, watering a new feeling that I can be loved despite my brokenness. It’s watering the hope that I’m not as alone as I once was. And in this constantly reforming present, I am believing in myself more. I am stronger and healthier. And I’ve found what matters most of all–the relationship and love that I have with myself–for in the light of love, I find myself more and more everyday.
Even though this is amazing, to curve my own difficulties, I have to go at my own pace. I must remain independent, and keep focused on my own dreams. I have to give myself space to process and do the things I need to do to remain in check with my own personality quirks and needs. I am still set on becoming a librarian. I am also still set on being a writer and to keep on with my travels, collecting beautiful photos, and artifacts of my offbeat spirituality and meditations along the way.
At 33, I am a late bloomer and all I can say–is that to try is better than not trying at all. To be hopeful, is better to not have any hope.
To keep your dreams alive, is better than living a life empty of them.
Love exists, in a myriad of forms, despite the hardships of yesterday. And what I’ve learned on this journey of a lifetime, is that even if you might not believe in love anymore–this love will still believe in you.
Do you have a successful experience with “falling in love?” Did you have any challenges that came from having a difficult past or from being an adoptee, and how did you overcome these challenges?
A friend, who is a Korean adoptee, recently shared her experience of life which she is happy to post. When I talk to intercountry adoptees there are always so many elements that we share and can relate to – yet each journey is so individually different. I’m priviledged to meet and talk to many intercountry adoptees who share with me their ups and downs and in-betweens. What is incredible is how much we have in common despite being adopted into different countries, different families, different cultures, and originating from different continents.