Mikati is a fellow Vietnamese adoptee raised in Belgium, who joined the ICAV network some years ago, wanting to connect to those who understood the complexities of this lifelong journey. I’m honoured to be a part of her life and she told me the amazing news recently of finding and reuniting with her biological brother Georges who was also adopted, but to France. Neither knew of the other until their DNA matches showed up. Together, Mikati and Georges have shared with me their thoughts about finding each other and searching now for their Vietnamese family. Since sharing this and having their news go viral in Vietnamese media, they are currently awaiting news that they have possibly found their mother. Incredible what can be achieved these days with DNA technology and social media! Here is their story as reunited brother and sister.
About Your Life
I’ve been adopted in 1996 by French parents and my Vietnamese name is Trương Vanlam. I live in Noisy-le-Grand, a little Parisian suburb near the river Marne. I happily live with my cat and girlfriend.
My life in France (childhood to present) meant I’ve grown up in the countryside surrounded by medieval castles, fields and forests. It has not always been easy to be different in a place where Asian people were very rare to encounter. I was a shy kid but I was happy to have the love of my adoptive family and some friends. Later, I studied in Paris, a pluri-ethnic place with a lot of people from different origins. I have an interest in arts like theatre and cinema and I’ve started to develop short films with my friends. I am not shy anymore but creative and more confident.
My adoptive parents were very happy to see me for Christmas. They are retired and they don’t leave their village very often like before. They try to help me as much as they can and are happy about my reconnection to my new found sister, Mikati. I trust and respect my adoptive parents and they trust me and respect me equally.
I teach cinema, video editing and graphics with Adobe suite to adults and teens. I’m making videos and one day, I hope to become a movie director.
I was born in 1994 and adopted to Belgium in June 1995 at 7 months of age. I currently live in Kortrijk in West-Flanders, Belgium. My childhood was in Anzegem, not so far from Kortrijk.
I have been able to develop and grow up in Belgium. I have some dear friends. I have a nice job. Over the years I have made beautiful trips in and out of Europe and met many people. I have done two studies – orthopedagogy and social work. Here I learned how important human, children’s and women’s rights are. I have been working for a non-profit organization for years. I follow up families in socially vulnerable situations and connect them with a student who is studying at the college or university. I did not study to be a teacher, but it is true that I do train students about how they can work with vulnerable families, how they can reflect on their actions, etc.
My childhood wasn’t all that fantastic. As an intercountry adoptee, I grew up in a white environment. That environment had little respect for my original roots. Sometimes I would walk down the street and hear racial slurs from people I didn’t know. As much as I tried to assimilate, I didn’t forget my roots.
My Vietnamese name is Pham Thi Hoa Sen which says a lot about what my life has been like. I grew up to turn out beautiful but I grew up in mud just like a lotus flower. A thorough screening could have prevented a lot. My adoptive parents are not bad people and they did their best, but they underestimated the care needed for children adopted internationally. My adoptive mother already had two children from a previous marriage that she was no longer allowed to see. She was mentally unable to raise children. My adoptive parents are burdened by trauma that they have not worked through. At that time there was also little to no psychological support and guidance for adoptive parents. It was very difficult growing up with them. It is by seeking help for myself and talking to people about it, that I am more aware of life. Just because you mean well and have good intentions does not mean that you are acting right.
About Your Reunion
It has been surreal, like a dream and a little bit frightening to be found by my sister because all my beliefs about my personal history are now unsure. The first days, I remember repeating again and again, “I’ve got an elder sister, I’ve got an elder sister”. Then we started to talk and get to know each other more and it became more real. Now I’m very happy and proud to have Mikati as my sister. It’s very strange because even though we met only two weeks ago, I feel like I have know her for a long time. For me, it’s a new step in my life, the beginning of a journey where I will connect more with her, with Vietnam, where we will try to discover our family story, I hope.
Mikati is a strong and caring woman who is always trying to help others despite having encountered many difficulties in her life. She’s very passionate, clever, funny and above all I respect and admire the person she is. We like to discuss many things from important subjects like international adoptions and smaller subjects like the life of our respective cats or tv series or why Belgians are so proud to eat French fries with mayonnaise. I don’t know why but I’ve quickly felt a connection with her. It could be because of our shared DNA but I think it’s more probably because she is fundamentally fantastic as a person. I like to tease her a little sometime and she’s very patient with me and my jokes! We’ve got our differences of course, but siblings always have differences. I’m very glad to have her in my life.
1.5 years ago I decided to take a DNA test through MyHeritage (a commercial DNA-kit). To get a bit of an indication of where my roots come from. Through the result I got a little more information about ethnicity and I saw distant relatives. It was cool to know something because I know very little about my roots. I hadn’t looked at MyHeritage in a long time until early December 2022. I have no idea why exactly as I didn’t even get a notification. To my surprise, I saw that I had a new match. It wasn’t just any distant relative, it was my brother! He lived in a neighbouring country, France!
You have to know that I just woke up when I looked at my mobile phone, so I immediately sent a message to some close friends and my guidance counsellor at the Descent Center. I wanted to know if I was dreaming. Finally I got the confirmation from the experts at the Descent Center that my DNA result were real and we share over 2500 centimorgans! That means he is not half but rather, a full brother.
I was so happy! So many emotions raced through my body that day. I saw a lot of people who were also adopted at an event that day. Most of them were a great support. Most were as happy and moved as I was. A minority reacted rather short, jealous or gave unsolicited advice about anything and everything. I also understand their feelings. It is an exceptional situation that triggers many emotions. Those emotions of others made it sometimes overwhelming for me.
I contacted Georges through Facebook. I wondered if he had already seen it. When he didn’t reply, a friend gave me his LinkedIn profile that had his email address on it. I felt like a little stalker but I decided to send him an email as well. I sent him a little text and gave him the option to get in touch if he wanted to. When he answered, he introduced himself and asked a few questions. The contact was open, enthusiastic and friendly. So we are very sure of the DNA match, but some mysteries soon surfaced quickly during the first conversation. We told each other what name we got on our adoption papers. Our last names are different. I see on my adoption papers that I have the same last name as my mother. Maybe he has the father’s last name? Georges has not yet properly looked at his adoption papers, so there are still pieces of the puzzle missing.
I am happy when I connect with my brother. The contact feels so natural! We talk and joke like we have known each other for years. We both got a little emotional when we talked about our childhood but also realised how close geographically we grew up. Georges is barely 14 months younger than me. Did the orphanage ever talk to my adoptive parents and suggest taking Georges too? So that we could grow up together? What would my adoptive parents do in such a situation? With a reunion, the search for one’s identity is not over. In fact, it has opened up many more questions!
About your biological family in Vietnam
My determination to find my family in Vietnam has increased since I met my elder sister but I’ve always been curious to find more information about my biological mother and father. Growing up as an adopted child, I grew up with a perpetual mystery about my origins. It defines me, marking me forever because I’m always facing the fear of being rejected again . Like many adoptees, I grew up with this explanation: “Your first parents left you because of their poverty.” This is speculation which may be true or not and we do not know until the facts are gathered. I feel no anger about that but I want to know the real motives, the real story from their point of view. Was it their decision or not….?
Mikati is really passionate and determined in this search and about our story and she told me about the real problems caused by some organisations which have seen international adoption as a business in the 1990s. I did research to gather information based on official and independent reports from the press and UNICEF and I talked to adopted people who have been in our orphanage. I’m worried about some testimonies, about the lack of transparency in the adoption process and to adoptive parents, adopted children and biological parents and now I want to be sure if our parents gave their consent or not. I’m also determined to discover this truth and to show our journey through a documentary in order give more information about what could have been problematic in international adoption in the 1990s to year 2000. I’m not alone in this quest ,my elder sister is with me and I’m with her.
I’ve never had the opportunity to return to Vietnam yet but it is something I hope to do in the near future. I’m sure it won’t be only for fun and tourism!
I have my reasons for wanting to find my parents. Under Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the child has a right to information about his or her parentage. It is also fundamental in human beings to know where they come from. As long as I don’t know the story about my biological parents, I can’t be mad. I really wonder what their
story is. I know it’s going to be hard to search. I know that commercial DNA testing is less used in Vietnam. Papers and names were sometimes forged. I don’t know if my mom actually came from My Tho. Is her name really Tuyet Mai? Right now I’m looking at it mostly inquisitively and with compassion. I want to look at the bigger picture. Why is it that parents are faced with the decision to give up a child? How can a system support parents so that such things do not have to happen again?
Recently a Vietnamese woman contacted me on social media. She told me why she had given up her child in the same orphanage as Georges and I. It has not been easy for her to find out where her child went and she continues to search for her child, even if it was more than 20 years ago. She is still saddened by the situation. If anyone can help us broaden this search, please see here.
I have lost contact with my adoptive parents, so they know nothing about my search. I’m sure my adoptive mother would have disapproved.
It would be nice if we find our parents, but we’ll see. I am very grateful for Phuc who has offered to help us search. He seems very nice. I hear from other adoptees that he is friendly and reliable. I also read articles about him and it’s unbelievable what he does to bring families together! I would find it courageous if families dare to come out for what was difficult in the past and why they gave up their child. By telling their story as biological parents, even if they feel ashamed, our society can learn and improve the future.
There are adoptees whose biological parents thought their baby was stillborn but it was actually sold for adoption. If that’s the case with our parents, they don’t even know we are alive. Our story can be everything. It’s hard to know what our case was.
I have so many unanswered questions and I would like to know my family’s story.
If I were to see my biological mother again, the first thing I would tell her is that I would like to get to know her and listen to her story.
Vietnam will always be special to me, even though I didn’t grow up there. I was 9 years old when I went back with my adoptive parents and my sister (non biological) who is also adopted. We went from North to South. Even though my adoptive mother was negative about Vietnam, she couldn’t ruin it for me. The food, the smiling people, the chaos in Ho Chi Minh and the nature in smaller villages have stayed with me. Now I’m reading more about Vietnam and talking more to Vietnamese people. I am saving up to travel to Vietnam again. Maybe alone, maybe with friends or maybe with Georges. We’ll see. But I certainly will go back and learn more about my beautiful country.