The day I learned I was adopted, both my families died. The ones that raised me, turned out to be a sham. The ones that did not, turned out to be an enigma.
In June of 2019 at 34 years of age, I learned I was adopted after taking a DNA test for fun. There were definitely a lot of emotions I went through when I made this discovery. From having my identity shattered, to questioning everything about my past.
For 34 years, I believed I was the biological kin of the parents who raised me, because that’s what they told me. And yes, I always felt something was odd, I just didn’t have the conscious knowledge to know what it was.
In the early days of discovering my adoption, I came across April Dinwoodie’s Podcast. In one of her podcasts she interviews Darryl McDaniels of Run DMC, who as it turns out, is also a late discovery adoptee and learned of his adoption at 35. Darryl said something that really stuck with me. “I can use my story not only to make my life better, but I can help so many other people who are in the same situation as me to understand their lives better.”
What he said inspired me to start sharing my story. I then started to blog about my experience. I created an Instagram page and I share my thoughts on Twitter. It has allowed me to process what it means to be adopted. For my entire life up until that point, I was raised as an adoptee, without ever consciously knowing I was adopted.
Documenting my thoughts, emotions and experience is a way for me to work through them and heal.
Since that time, I have learned a lot. But in no way, shape or form does that make me an expert in adoption. I still have a lot to learn, and more importantly a lot of healing.
We live in a world where sharing is so easy to do now. My thoughts have reached out to people from all over the globe. And so have many others. In that regard, it’s interesting to read all the different views adoptees have on adoption. Some are for it, some against it. Some in between, and there are those that just don’t have an opinion at all.
When I think about where I stand, I feel like there’s no definite answer. I am not for adoption. I am not against adoption. As of today, it feels more like I am anti-bullshit about the whole thing.
I do not believe that adoption is going away in my lifetime. I don’t see how. It’s more than just giving a child a home. In many cases it’s about giving a person the opportunity to have a life. It doesn’t guarantee a better life, just a different one.
I’d love to see more movement in family preservation but as an intercountry adoptee, I understand that the idea of family preservation is going to take a lot more work. How do we change entire societies mindsets? In many places adoption is still deeply stigmatised. I was adopted from India to the USA and even though people do adopt in India domestically, I get the sense that it is still a taboo topic. My paperwork from India states that I was abandoned because my mother was unmarried. It’s as if the only option for a pregnant unmarried woman is to abandon her child.
Everyone affected by adoption has their own opinions and as a person that has entered this space less than two years ago, I’m tired of seeing division. We’re all entitled to an opinion. We are all allowed to speak our minds. By the same token, others are allowed to disagree.
I know not everything I say or share is agreeable to some people and that’s fine with me. But how do we take this issue and change it to an agreeable approach?
I personally think the definition of adoption needs to change. It’s not just about taking a child and placing them in a new family where they lose everything they once had. I see it all the time where people talk about what is best for the children, all the while forgetting that these children are going to grow up, form opinions of their own along the way, and become adults. I certainly did.
These adults are not adopted children anymore. They are not children period. And these adults already have families. They already have roots.
I was somebody before adoption changed me. It is not all sunshine and rainbows, but it is still there. As someone who doesn’t know his origin story, I want mine. Even if it’s doom and gloom.
When we talk about adoption, I believe words matter. The English language is not complex enough to help us define the relationships in adoption.
The way I see it, my parents are the people that raised me. They are not my mother and father. My adopters are mother and father figures, not replacements. My mother and father, the ones I already have, are not my parents because they did not raise me. However it is viewed, or defined, I can still accept both sets of people as my family.
I get to make that decision even though it feels like society wants me to separate the two and say I belong to the ones that spent time and resources on me. Spending time and resources doesn’t matter if the relationship is conditional, and in my case, when it’s full of deception. Anybody could have fed and sheltered me but it takes more than that to give somebody a life.
That being said, I choose who I belong to. And right now, it’s none of them. Why? Because I can’t appreciate the fact that other people made choices for me. Choices that led to my relinquishment and then my adoption.
Both sets have been brainwashed in some shape or form. The adopters were probably told and felt that the adopted children would be theirs. They took that a step too far, and as such they never told me I was adopted. And I can only speculate what my birth mother went through. Being told that children of unwed mothers are not worthy to be kept. Reading up on India’s history of adoption and how unwed women are treated when it comes to being pregnant has not been very positive.
My past is beyond my control and I have to accept it. Now I am the one who has to spend time and resources to process all this for myself.
I do know there are decent adoptive parents out there, raising other people’s kids and actually supporting them as adoptees. I know some of them. I know and have read about couples that take their adoptees back to their birth countries. They actually want to help them find their families. It is shockingly eye-opening and heart-breaking to me because I know that was an option I never have gotten to experience. Instead, this has now become a process and a journey I do alone.
I don’t know where I was going with this. It just is. I’ve known about my adoption for 20 months now. I’ve been full steam ahead trying to learn and absorb all that I can and everyday my perspective changes. I try to learn from all sides before I form an opinion. And there are many sides to this.
Adoption is a complicated and traumatic experience.
This is why I say I’m anti-bullshit. I’m tired of the crap that doesn’t matter. There has got to be some way to make this better.
Better for adoptees because it’s our lives and well-being that is at stake here!
I have a T-shirt bearing this witticism which I received from someone who knew of me only from my newsletter for German-born adoptees. I have since become aware of its occasionally being reformulated, substituting the word “Texan” for “German.” The idea, of course, is that being a German – or a Texan – can be so self-evident from observable indicia that even strangers can see it in a person’s behaviour, dress, or demeanour. Many people have commented that I exhibit personality traits they characterise as “typically German.” I don’t know if there are heritable personality traits that are “typical” of Germans, or, if so, whether my alleged exhibition thereof is a result of having been born there, or if it’s simply the natural consequence of the particular formative experiences of my childhood. In any event, having known of my German origin for as long as I can remember, it has always been a foundational aspect of my identity.
Identifying as German has had a strong influence on many of the choices I have made in life. When, in junior-high school, we were required to choose a foreign language to learn from the available options of Spanish, French or German, naturally, I chose German. Even then, I had already formed the intention to search for my birth mother in Germany, and I imagined that it would be useful and/or necessary to know the language. My effort to learn German in junior-high and high school didn’t really pan out, and so, when I was stationed in Germany in 1979-80 as a member of the U.S.A.F., I availed myself of the opportunity to resume learning German. I discovered it came easier, for some reason, while living in the country, and I would continue to learn it – mostly by using it, when reading letters from and writing letters to friends I’d made while I was there, for example – more or less continually for the rest of my life.
When my parents purchased a new (used) car, ostensibly for my mother to drive, but with which I would in any event learn to drive, they asked for my input. I suggested buying a Volkswagen Beetle. I was partly inspired by my German teacher, who drove a Bug; but I also wanted to learn to drive in a car with a stick shift. (Ultimately, the car became “mine” by default, as Mother refused to drive it.) Ever since, whenever I have owned a car of my own (until 2010, always a VW Bug), I would display a “D-Schild,” an oval-shaped placard formerly affixed to vehicles in Europe to identify the nationality of the owner (“D” stands for Deutschland).
Other, less consequential signs of my Germanophilia included the purchases of a three-foot-by-five-foot tricolor flag, which I would hang on the wall wherever I might be living at the time, as well as an album of songs by the German singer Roland Kaiser, which I found when shopping at a nearby record store in Brooklyn, NY, not long after I’d moved there in 1980.
At the same time, I never felt any strong sense of fealty towards the United States. When I was naturalized, at the age of five, repetition of the requisite oath was probably waived under INS rules due to my age; my adoptive father signed the certificate. Even so, when, as children, we were required to say the Pledge of Allegiance each morning in school, I cannot say that it represented anything more meaningful to me than a rote recitation of a memorized sentence. Eventually, I publicly acknowledged this lack of significance by boycotting its daily reiteration, beginning in junior-high school. (I don’t recall if anything happened as a result of this protest, but I imagine I would remember if there had been significant consequences. Perhaps my right to do so was simply acknowledged and respected?)
Growing up as a boy in America in the 1960s, I was acutely aware of the war in Vietnam, as well as my eventual obligation to register for the draft when I turned 18 and the concomitant potential risk of being sent to fight in that conflict, should it still be going on at that time. Even before the draft was officially ended, in 1973, I had acknowledged – to myself, at least – that I was gay, and so I had already formed the intent, if it came to that, to apprize the Selective Service officials of my sexual orientation, thereby avoiding military service by peremptorily being deemed “unfit.” War or no war, I had no desire to be drafted into the army. Having never been in the closet, as it were, I wasn’t worried about any backlash to publicly “coming out,” but I never had the chance to prove the strength of these convictions; the Selective Service office in my hometown was permanently closed in 1975, the year I turned 18. I eschew patriotism as easily as I eschew religion; both are equally meaningless. (The irony of my subsequent voluntary enlistment in the U.S.A.F. is not lost on me; however, that decision sprang not from any patriotic feeling, but rather from a desire to end what was looking like an interminable period of unemployment, with the added appeal of potentially acquiring a skill that could be parlayed into a civilian job later on. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out, either.)
I don’t know when the thought first occurred to me, but by the summer of 1978, at the age of 21, it was already well established in my mind; I wrote in my diary at the time, “The more I think about it, the more I want to know if I may acquire dual citizenship.” The question was more properly formulated as, “I wonder if I ever lost my German citizenship.” Be that as it may, shortly after I wrote those words, I obtained a form from the German Consulate in New York City which they said I needed to complete and submit in order to answer the question. The information required to be provided concerned the citizenship status of my natural relatives; my mother and father, and their respective mothers and fathers, and so on, as far back as information was available. (German citizenship is acquired via blood – jus sanguinis – as opposed to where one is born – jus soli.)
As soon as I was able, i.e., as soon as I had searched for and found my birth mother (having been born illegitimate, only her information was relevant), I completed as much of the form as I was able and sent it in. Had you asked me at the time, I probably would have said that I fully expected there to have been some basis for involuntary expatriation, so it came as a very pleasant surprise when I received my Staatsangehörigkeitsausweis, a certificate attesting to my status as a German citizen. I immediately applied for and obtained a German passport. (Interestingly, like the passport, the citizenship certificate bore an expiration date; I faithfully renewed it until they finally changed the law and issued a certificate that doesn’t “expire.”)
I am very enamoured of the idea of having dual nationality, and I eagerly mention the fact whenever circumstances allow, sometimes showing off my Reisepass. I have never used my German passport for purposes other than identification following my return to Germany in 2018, but I did once encounter a problem when I obtained employment at a company that contracted to provide background investigation services to the federal government. The contract was with the Department of Defense, and I had to officially acknowledge my dual-national status in the course of having my own background investigated. The DOD had no problem with my retaining my German citizenship while performing the contracted work; but it did demand that my employer hold my German passport for the duration of the contract – or my employment, whichever ended first. As it happened, the contract ended first, and my employer, in order to continue employing me, had to reassign me to work under a different federal contract, this time with the Department of Energy. Unlike the DOD, however, the DOE did object to my retention of a foreign nationality, and, for want of another alternative position within the company, my employer was forced to terminate my employment because I wasn’t willing to renounce my German citizenship.
It did not take long after I’d begun trying to ascertain the means and methods I would need to employ to search for my birth mother, in the mid-1980s, that I discovered that such information was unavailable within the existing Adoption Reform Movement in the U.S.; nor did the available literature offer any guidance. As a result, I felt very disconnected from my fellow, U.S.-born adoptees, particularly after I learned that German-born adoptees had been given access to their original records in the late 1970s. After visiting my recently discovered half-brother in Germany, in March of 1988, I decided that I would try to fill that information gap by publishing a newsletter, which I entitled “Geborener Deutscher” (“German by birth”), and which I then distributed to all the existing adoption search support groups in the U.S.
I likewise do not know exactly when I fixated on the idea of returning permanently to Germany. I do remember wishing, as early as 1980, when I was discharged from the U.S.A.F. while still stationed in Germany, that I could have remained in the country, instead of having to return to the States to process out. I think I recognized, however, that it would not have been practical to remain in Germany then; my command of the language was completely inadequate, and I had joined the Air Force in the first place because of my difficulty finding work in the country where I had grown up. But having spent almost a full year effectively living in Germany, I had come to believe that it could be done, under the right circumstances; the seed had been planted, and remained always in the back of my mind. Eventually, it matured into a promise to myself, as well as a life goal I would express at every opportunity, a goal that I vowed I would attempt to accomplish as soon as the time was right.
A bit more than 25 years from the day my first German passport was issued, the time became right. With the deaths of my husband, in 2015, and my adoptive father, in 2016 (my only other immediate family members had already passed away: my sister in 2003, and my mother in 2010), I had lost all personal ties to the U.S. of any significance, and so I began seriously contemplating my “Rückkehr” – my return. Moving was something I was planning to do in any event after my father died – I had never particularly liked living in New Mexico – and the first thing to do was to figure out if moving to Germany was even practicable.
The logistics were pretty straightforward, but there was one prerequisite that represented a “make or break” criterion: German residents are legally required to have health insurance; if I couldn’t afford to obtain health insurance on my limited income (SSA survivor’s benefits on my late husband’s account, supplemented by the proceeds of the sales of both my childhood home and my then-current residence), either within the state-sponsored system or from private sources, moving to Germany would not be possible. Once I was assured, however, in December 2017, that I would, in fact, be able to get coverage within the state-sponsored system once I had established residency in Germany, I started preparing to relocate, a process that culminated in my arrival, on June 23, 2018, in Frankfurt-am-Main, with little more than the clothes on my back and my then-12-year-old cat, Rusty. (Some might imagine that the recent political upheaval in the U.S. played some role in my decision to relocate when I did, but it was purely coincidental; my late husband just happened to pass away two weeks before Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015, and my father just happened to pass away one month prior to the 2016 election. It took as little time thereafter as possible, given the need to await the final settlement of my father’s estate, to begin the actual process of moving, and arrange for the orderly “wrapping up” of the life I had built up to that point.)
April 2, 2020, marked the second anniversary of my arrival in Germany on my initial mission to find a place to live, either permanently or temporarily while looking for a more permanent residence. I was extremely fortunate to have found an apartment – just a furnished room, really, but nonetheless adequate for my purposes – within the first two weeks; and then, after briefly returning to New Mexico to tie up the loose ends of my old life, an apartment better suited to long-term residency within three months of my permanent return to Germany in June. So far, everything has been as good or better than I imagined or expected. In particular, it feels as if I have done more bike-riding since returning to Germany than I had in 25 years of living in New Mexico. In any event, I have absolutely no regrets. I do not miss anything about my life in America, except for some food items that are unavailable, or prohibitively expensive to obtain (and even those items are not as numerous as one might imagine, because, while they are invariably more expensive to obtain, they’re not all prohibitively expensive).
When I was awaiting a determination of my citizenship status in Germany, I published an article in Geborener Deutscher, which I headlined, “Am I German or American?” Some time later, after having established my status as a dual national, I published an updated version of that article under the headline, “I Am Both German and American.” But these labels referred exclusively to my citizenship status, and not to any other form of self-identification. If I had been writing about how I identify culturally, I might have said, “I am neither German nor American.” Being an accidental citizen of two different countries, and having no sense of belonging to either, I sometimes describe myself as a “citizen of the world”; but that is as much a misnomer as “German” or “American.”
Nevertheless, regardless of how long I live in Germany – and regardless of how much I might wish it weren’t so – I will forever carry my “American-ness” within me. And while I feel very much more at home here than ever I did in the U.S., it’s really just a matter of comparison. I never really felt “at home” anywhere in America, and that feeling of alienation only increased with time. It didn’t help that I never developed any familial bond with my adoptive parents; or that I socially isolated myself as a child, as a reaction (perhaps an overreaction?) to perceived social ostracisation; or that I never found community with any of the social subgroups to which I claim membership (adoptees, generally, and intercountry adoptees, particularly; or gay men). Consequently, I have experienced an intense sense of disconnection from humanity, a persistent feeling of “separateness” that began as mistrust and which has morphed, over time, into misanthropy.
I often imagine the life I might have had if I hadn’t been adopted, or if I hadn’t been adopted by Americans; the life I might have had had I grown up in Germany. As I envision it, it is a life that probably would have been less stable or comfortable, but which might have been more fulfilling; a life that might not have provoked me to distance myself from my fellow man, and which might have afforded me the opportunity to develop the sense of belonging that has forever eluded me – and which I know now I will never find. I do not necessarily regret the life I have lived, but I do sometimes feel intense regret for the life I lost, and likewise, intense anger at having been deprived of it.
By Aaron Dechter, adopted from Colombia to America.
45 years ago today, I was adopted and arrived in Boston, USA. This day is hard: three sides to the coin. Deep sadness for Mamá and my Colombian family for the son who was stolen and taken from them. Happiness for my mom and dad and my American family for what was the most important day for them. So that leaves me.
Like many other adoptees who are torn internally into a million pieces, at my age now, I’ve come to accept the ups and downs, the happy and sadness as the pendulum swings each day.
My younger sister tells me, “The pain and suffering of Mamá and the entire family will never heal”. My older sister tells me, “Take it as a gift of life for having two families that love me, for caring for me and allowing my to return home”. Brenna and Gabriella say, “This was a happy day, now knowing that truth it’s different. It’s tough, it’s still a special day but it feels tainted”. All opinions are justified.
So here I am, representing the triad of adoption. I represent Mamá and Colombia family. I represent my parents and American family. I represent Brenna and Gabriella and myself. I can’t wash the adoption off but it made me who I am today.
The path to healing continues but I’m still here fighting the cause for Mamá, my parents and me.
It’s early morning, I’ve only the birds for company for a few more hours. Until my favourite person wakes up. Across the world in the place I was born it’s already early afternoon on my birthday.
Birthdays are a strange, strange day for adoptees. The days preceding it are pensive and sad for completely different reasons to those who perhaps see only more candles on cake. It’s an odd day to celebrate given the anniversary of loss eclipsing that day.
My birthday is one of normalised secrets and mysteries, unspoken questions unanswered. Who was the woman to whom I was born on this day? How was my birth? Did she hold me at all, for how long, minutes, days, weeks, months? How was she feeling? Sad, relieved, resentful, frightened. Decisive?
Who were the other women who cared for me and brokered my adoption? Nuns convinced they were doing a God’s work. While from my perspective it seems more like a Handmaids Tale.
I know my mothers name, her age and that she was Indian and I have her ID number, assuming my birth certificate wasn’t falsified as many were in other parts of Asia. That’s all, except perhaps that she was likely Catholic. You would think a name and an ID card number might be enough to find her. But it’s another continent, another culture. One in which I have no sources, no allies or relationships and no sense of the unwritten rules and expectations.
Her name now brings up an obituary listed in late 2016. A woman with this name died leaving behind a husband and a daughter. More mysteries, could it be my mother, and if so, is the daughter me, or a sister? Is her name common in Malaysia? Are those whom Google uncovers with this name, no more likely to be relatives than a Brown or a Smith? Or is it more rare? The first search reveals a young man, a journalist in Malaysia, a crime reporter. He’s on Twitter but he has only a handful of followers and very few tweets showing me who he is. Should I follow him, and see if he follows the clues back to me? Am I a random stranger whose profile of a Chindian Malaysian adoptee is only of passing interest or could it resonate with the possibilities of a shameful family secret? How does an adoptee reach out to people in these circumstances knowing the possible weight of consequences?
I could hire a detective – perhaps with this information it wouldn’t take a well connected expert long to find people and information. But I’m told it’s common practice to expect to bribe people for information. For my information. I’m resentful about how much it might cost me to find out what everyone else takes for granted. A history they’ve never even had to consider a human right. It just exists. Perhaps it’s even a little boring, the story of the day you were born, told again and again.
If I take my search to another level, there’ll be no going back once a certain line has been crossed. So much can unravel once it does in a family across the world, and in one here.
Only adoptees will really understand this, perhaps they will always mean more to me than family. They are mostly strangers across the world, they know intimate details about my adoption story and almost none about my day-to-day life. A kind of Adoptees Anonymous.
Today a call with my British adoptive parents will be unavoidable. There will be pseudo jollity. They’ll wish me a happy birthday, ask me about my day and presents, and no one will mention the secrets and mysteries of this day in 1972 in Malaysia.
In Sweden where I grew up, people like me are called adopted. It’s easy to spot an adopted. We look like we are from somewhere far away but we don’t know our native language or culture. This creates confusion wherever we go. It also creates confusion within ourselves.
Who are we? Who am I?
We grieve our traumas in silence because as soon as we share our sadness, we are told that we should be grateful: to our new amazing country and our kind adoptive parents.
This is something a Swedish biological child never has to hear: that they should be grateful to live in Sweden! This creates a sense of being worth less compared to everyone else; that we exist in Sweden on other terms compared to our peers; that it’s conditional. In many cases, our adoptive parents didn’t take good care of us. They disregarded our traumas. And they didn’t understand the racism all of us had to endure, both as children and adults. We were unprotected. We were fair game.
When you are adopted you sometimes grieve and think about your mother. For some reason you don’t think very much about your dad. I think this is because we are under the impression that our mothers were clueless and young, perhaps drug addicts, perhaps prostitutes. And that our dad was just some dude. The part with the prostitution, by the way, is part of the narrative that adopted girls are handed when they are young. “If you stayed in your country you would have been a prostitute, so why aren’t you grateful?!” Can you imagine what this message does to us?!
Daddy, like most of the other adoptees, I have spent time wondering about my mother, but I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about you in the past. Now, I think about you all the time.
This past November was the first time I’ve celebrated [Inter]National Adoption Month. In honor of centering the adoptee narrative, in honor of me, my family, and my bio family, I’m excited to share some thoughts. Here’s a bit about my perspective and experience of being an intercountry and transracial adoptee from China, having grown up in the US.
I want to stress that these are entirely my own perspectives and observations, drawn from my own life and relating to other [Chinese] adoptees I’ve spoken with; I do not intend to speak opinion for the entire adoptee community.
I used to tell people that I had no problem talking about being adopted because everything was fine for me. At a surface [and immensely privileged] level, it was. I was always very social and extroverted. I was oriented towards making as many friendships as I could. I was *that kid from camp who tried to stay in touch just a bit too long*. I told people I was fine talking about being adopted – even that there was nothing to talk about- because it had happened in the past.
But I am older now, and it’s taken me a while to dig into exactly how and why being adopted has had such an impact on me.
Being adopted is weird, and honestly I’m constantly in awe these days, learning new ways that its weird, and how it situates me in relation to most others, in and outside my communities.
I think we all face abandonment and loss, and the fear of these things, in different ways. I personally do not feel upset with my birth family at this point, but even so, I’ve realize that being abandoned (even if I don’t remember it) really feels present, and has been present throughout my life. I feel it’s important to name this phenomena of the fear of being abandoned, as its really not something I think any adoptee can ever really shake, no matter how conscious or unconscious those fears are. I’ve been doing a lot of work to understand how this fear affects me, and how I may be subconsciously reacting to it even if I don’t realize — whether it’s losing a camp friend at age 12, or the way I communicate in my relationships.
I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out what it meant to be read as an Asian woman. I felt completely foreign to this identity that I assumed publicly. I grew up in, and around white people, and white culture – as many adoptees from China do. I used to feel like I was a white kid in an Asian body. You’ll find this (or versions of it) aren’t uncommon for young Chinese intercountry and transracial adoptees.
Two examples of comments I received as a child are below for example:
“I don’t see you as Asian, you’re just normal!”
“Can you see ok?”
These comments were obviously steeped in racism, xenophobia and the essence of the marginalized identity, versus the construction of “normalcy”. They made me wonder what it was that people saw me as, and why it was so different compared to who I felt I was. I felt “normal,” which in itself was a horribly racist and xenophobic sentiment that I had been socialized to carry.
The sociologist Robin DiAngelo describes White Privilege as “To be perceived as individual, to not be associated with anything negative because of your skin color.”
There were two things that I continue to unpack there. While I was socialized in white culture within the US, I too learned how to read “Asians” as “abnormal.” Just as well, I discovered that I was read as abnormal — as out of place, too.
My White-Jewish and queer family culture has played a large role in my socialization and makes up huge parts of my identity and personality. But there’s this other piece that stands as a nebulous question mark, always looming over me:
Where do I come from? Whom do I come from? What are the struggles, joys, and histories of my people – biologically and culturally?
As I continue to understand the situation, more and more it feels like my birthright was taken from me — the right to know my culture, language, and ancestry: the stories and realities that I may never get to hear and that will never fully be a part of me. I also feel I was stolen from my family; there were very real and systemic pressures that inclined them to give me away.
The situation of adoption is inherently both deeply personal and individual, as well as global and systemic. It involves Chinese gender roles, family, culture, income inequality/classism, combined with the Western/American White Christian legacy of imperialism, savior-ism, and more.
A lot of my experience has been hallmarked by both the feeling of being different and that nothing fully belongs to me/that I do not fully belong to anyone (not even my family). This caused a deep dissonance for me. This underlying socialization has pushed me to constantly search to find belonging in groups, and via individual people as a mechanism of survival. This is also inherently motivated by the fear of further loss and abandonment.
While some of these questions around my origins may never be answered, I believe the hardships given to me by being adopted have pushed me to be resilient, self aware, grounded, and perseverant in connecting with others. I am so proud of being an adoptee for these reasons. I wouldn’t trade it for anything because I think one of the most precious things in life is being able to love and connect with others, in as many ways as possible.
I have mostly hated being asked where I’m from because it tells me that the person asking recognizes I must be from somewhere else. This question implies I don’t really belong and must have an explanation for being on this land (interesting, do you feel you belong on this land, white Americans?)
However, I’m beginning to find it to also be an empowering question!
I’ve begun to find beauty in this assumption that I’m not from here and in the recognition that I do in fact come from somewhere. I am the product of generations and generations of people who have lived their lives since the beginning of time. These people, while I don’t know them, are in my blood and in my DNA, showing me how to survive every day!
How sad that somehow, the acknowledgement that I am from somewhere else has largely been, for me and other transracial adoptees, a source of feeling out of place, and is a tool of implicit and sometimes explicit social exclusion.
And what a blessing that I’ve been asked this question and that I have, and plan to continue, to explore and uncover where I come from.
Being transracially and intercountry adopted has made me inherently feel that I don’t belong anywhere – in any group or community. It’s made me feel a little more like an outsider in virtually every community I’ve been a part of. While all these things – the sentiment of this question “where are you from,” the look of surprise when people hear I’m Jewish, the feeling of being “othered” by people I consider my own, have caused conflict in my identity in numerous ways, they’ve also asked me to dig deeply into what it means to build bridges and to continue to share, connect, and depend on community.
My adoption has caused me to ask myself, “Well, what and who are my roots? What and who matter to me?”
Even if it’s taken this long to get here, even if I may never know my biological ancestry and have lost the opportunity and privilege to connect to my original people, I do know the beauty, importance, and imperative of figuring out how to connect deeply to my given histories, ancestries, and communities. I know that I can even choose my communities, and that I have that agency – something all adoptees deserve to know and practice.
This white supremacist culture largely holds power through convincing its inhabitants relentlessly to be numb and to grow cold to their own struggles and inherently, the struggles of others. We are taught that to be strong is to remain stoic. This encourages isolation, which is the antithesis of community. By opening up to my own pain and understanding the situation of my adoption, I turn painful realities into curiosity and eventually compassion. By sharing this pain with others, I build relationships where I can give and receive support, and feel understood and known, despite always feeling unseen in certain ways. For me, this is what resilience and healing looks like.
And that’s been a deeply powerful experience but not without pain. It’s taught me to root myself in me, and to trust my ability to build relationships/community with love, curiosity and determination through listening, trust, and vulnerability.
While growing up with two White-Jewish and gay moms wasn’t ever helpful in making me feel “normal,” it’s also been a remarkable privilege that I would not trade for anything else. The cultures of Judaism and queerness that my moms embodied and raised me with, have saved me in so many ways. I’m speaking specifically of white Judaism and queerness because my moms experiences have been white. Being Jewish and queer growing up, my parents both learned mechanisms of survival and resilience from their struggles, families and communities. These communities, in different ways, each have their own societal traumas to deal with, past and present. Therefore, built into the fabric and practice of their Jewish and queer identities, they raised me with these inherent strategies of coping and healing. Their strategies are all based on unconditional love and support through gathering and processing — of holding a place for pain, and not running from it. They taught me the importance of chosen family because they, themselves know it.
I’ve had the privilege and opportunity to learn from communities and individuals of color who have shared and articulated their strategies of resilience and healing – of returning to real strength and love. Many intercountry adoptees grow up inside homogenous communities – largely white Christian spaces and don’t really have the access, in multiple ways, to address their identities and their pain. That is why I feel it is so important to share my own experience.
People of Color know this deeply through the multitudes of marginalization, dehumanization and struggle that we have experienced globally. We are, and have to be, inherently more connected to our people. We know this to our core even if it’s unarticulated; we have to know this, living through white supremacy. We know how to love and how to connect, how to to depend, and how to empathize. We have histories of resilience and practices of healing, both collectively and in our blood.
For me, my people are Chinese adoptees.
We as adoptees have mountains to climb. But we are able to connect to each other through our shared experience of feeling unmoored and untethered; not quite “enough” to fully belong to any group, we are our own.
We have so much work to do. We must learn again and again that we are worthy, after a multitude of things has made us feel that we are not. We must learn of our peculiar and particular systemic disadvantage, of parsing through our (largely white) parents’ (and our own) implicit racism and participation in western imperialism. We must learn how to get situated as Asians in our adoptive countries, and sift through the social locations of privilege and marginalization/oppression we experience. As Asians, we are used as a tool to uphold white supremacy and perpetuate anti-blackness. All of that is mapped onto us everywhere we go, and we must learn to navigate it appropriately.
I hope this post gives perspective to some aspects of my community through my story. Give us some space and time to figure ourselves out. Try to put yourself in the perspective of literally feeling like you are never part of the majority, never feeling fully understood, and feeling an odd and ever present dissonance between the way you present and who you actually are.
Ask those of us who are willing, to share about our experiences. (Also be prepared if the answer is no. No-one owes you an explanation of their life!) A lot of the time, the adoptee narrative is overshadowed by adoptive parent voices so let us speak and try to take in what we say, please!
Oh also ! Don’t eeeeeeeevvvvvver tell us that we “should be thankful” or “are lucky” that our parents adopted us! While saying this has absolutely no bearing on my own deep feelings of gratitude and love for my parents (having more to do with who they are as parents and not the mere fact that they adopted me), every one of our stories, hardships and inheritances is different. After losing original/biological family, no-one should have to count on “luck” or “goodwill” to receive love and care. This type of comment puts us in a situation of perpetually making up for a favor, as if we are unworthy of that type of love – something that too many adoptees experience coming from their own adoptive parents.
I may not know how to parent but I do know that the goal of having a child, adopted or by blood, cannot be to fulfill your own dreams. When you have issues with your child becoming an autonomous human who is Different Than You, that is a beautiful (and hard!) opportunity to connect through difference! And begin to let go of that urge to control who and how your child is. Don’t ever make your child feel like they are still making up for being adopted or your need to be seen as Good and Charitable! This is quite applicable to all parenting though, I think.
Also, attention astrology folks (yes, that means you, queer millennials!):
I’m glad you love astrology and it’s your religion but before you go on a rant/yell about people’s moon and star signs, maybe try and recognize that some people do not KNOW those details! It’s not real anyway! Yes, I’m salty! I much prefer the enneagram!
In reality, my bitterness towards astrology worshipers is just a cry for folks to pay attention to the people around you, in multiple ways. Do you know for sure that people around you would know exactly where and when they were born? Read this whole post again if you are confused or upset for being called out, or are wondering why bringing something up like not knowing your actual birthday, time, location, or family etc., might be hard for some people.
This concept of sensitivity though, can be generalized. We all do mess up and miscommunicate and the best we can do is to check in with each other about our particular sensitivities.
I’m really thankful to be able to share some of the insights that my identity and situation have afforded me. I hope you may find them useful as well. Thank you for engaging.
*I used concept “(k)new,” combining the idea of the “known” and the “new” in the title. I came across this quasi-antonym through the paper “The context within: My journey into research” By Manulani Aluli Meyer: it uses “indigenous ways of knowing” to understand the concept of knowledge through experience, connoting knowledge that is simultaneously “known” and “new.”
I’ve just returned from a 3+ week return trip to my country of birth, Vietnam. This trip attests to the mantra “adoption is a lifelong journey“! My return to homeland has been another unwrapping of the many layers in exploring who I am and where I belong.
This trip was such a contrast to the first which I made 18 years ago. In year 2000, I returned to Vietnam for the first time. I was in my late-20s. I had only just begun awakening to understand I had “adoption” and “relinquishment” issues. I certainly had no idea I had a mass of grief and loss sitting beneath the surface of my daily life.
When I arrived in Vietnam for the first time in year 2000, I was affected by overwhelming feelings I had not known existed. I remember the deep intense grieving that arose within me as we were landing at the airport. Overwhelming emotions flooded me and I spent the first week crying and trying to work out why I was crying and what it all meant.
That trip ended up being quite liberating, a wonderful and very healing visit. The most memorable moment was the local woman in the Mekong Delta who asked me in faltering english where I was from. In my broken english I explained very simply that I’d left the country as a baby and was raised by white Australians because I didn’t know my mother or father. Having lived almost 3 decades of hearing people’s response, “Oh, how lucky you are” to learning of my adoption status, this woman in the Mekong Delta had been the first to immediately comprehend my losses. She spoke my truth which resonated within when she replied, “Oh, you have missed out on so much!”
18 years later, I am a different Lynelle, no longer fragmented and confused. I am now very aware of the impacts of relinquishment and adoption. It is now 20 years later of speaking out and encouraging fellow adoptees to become proactive and share about the issues we face. This time, I returned and I felt so grounded being back in my homeland and knowing my place, time and date of birth. I revelled in being back in my district and hospital of birth. I enjoyed blending in amongst people who look like me. I felt a natural affinity to the place and people. I love the vibrancy of Ho Chi Minh City! I can now call it home because my birth certificate has been found and I know some basic truths about myself!
Clearly it wasn’t just me who could sense that I felt at home. My husband is a 3rd generation Aussie Chinese and he said to me, “Wow, I’ve just realised I’m married to a Vietnamese woman!” It was one of those humorous moments but beneath the surface, the truth in what he said was profound. I am actually Vietnamese and I feel I have finally reclaimed that part of me that was missing. I no longer feel I am just an Aussie girl, I am Vietnamese – Australian. This second visit highlighted to me the many aspects of who I am, are fundamentally, very Vietnamese!
The mother earth connection, respect for nature and nurturing things has always been within me but it became obvious during my travels in Vietnam that this is a very Vietnamese way of being. I travelled from South to North and everywhere I went, whether it was in the city or the country areas, there were so many plots of land with fields growing vegetables, flowers, rice or something. The city ways in Vietnam have not as yet forgotten the link between mother nature and our human needs.
The innate desire in me to build and be part of a community, I also saw reflected in the Vietnamese way of life. In Vietnam just the example of how they navigate around one another on the roads is amazing. People and the traffic just flow around one another, allowing each other to go their ways without aggression, pushiness or competition. There is a natural way to “work together” in harmony that resonates within me.
I am by nature a very friendly person, always interested in finding out about others at a deeper level. I found this reflected in many of the Vietnamese locals I met and spent a great deal of time with. My taxi driver Hr Hien took me for a 12 hour trip to the Floating Markets. He embraced me, a stranger really, as his little “sister“. Turns out we were actually born at the same hospital with him being only 7 years older. He sheltered and protected me all day long. He could easily have abused his position of power, given I speak no Vietnamese and he could have robbed and dumped me in the middle of the Mekong Delta. Instead, he took me for the whole day and treated me with respect, welcoming me into his life sharing his thoughts and views about Vietnamese life, culture, family, laws, and ways. When we purchased things, he would say, “Don’t say a word, I’ll tell them you’re my sister returned from Australia who left as a baby to explain why you can’t speak Vietnamese“. Then he’d negotiate for us and get the “local rate“. It was experiences like this that showed me the soul of the Vietnamese people with which I relate – the sense of looking out for others, being kind and generous in spirit.
Returning to visit the War Remnants Museum, I was once again reminded of the Vietnamese spirit of resilience, forgiveness, and ability to move on despite a terribly, ugly history of wars and atrocities. Attributes I’ve seen within my being and now I comprehend where these flow from. It’s my Vietnamese spirit, my Vietnamese DNA! I am hardwired to have survived and flourish, despite the adversities.
For me, returning to birth land has been so important to embracing all the aspects of who I am. I am a product of relinquishment and adoption, in-between two cultures, lands and people. In growing up in my adoptive country, I had been fully Australian without understanding or embracing my Vietnameseness. Now, in my mid 40s, I feel I have returned to myself. I am proudly both of my two cultures and lands. I love the Vietnamese aspects I see in myself and I also love my Australian culture and identity. I no longer feel divided but am comfortable being both at the same time.
It’s taken years of active awareness to embrace my lost identity, culture, and origins but it is a journey I wanted to do. I had realised in my late 20s that being adopted had resulted in a denial of a large part of who I am, at my very core.
I look forward to future returns to Vietnam. I hope one day it will be to reunite with my Vietnamese birth family. That will be an amazing path of discovery which will open up even further facets in discovering who I am!
I can so relate to the Lotus, the national flower of Vietnam!
To the Vietnamese, lotus is known as an exquisite flower, symbolizing the purity, serenity, commitment and optimism of the future as it is the flower which grows in muddy water and rises above the surface to bloom with remarkable beauty.
Click here for my collection of photos from this trip and here for photos from year 2000 return visit.
I love hand-written letters. I love postcards. I love old-fashioned envelopes, antique stationary, and postage stamps with its own historical references. Maybe it’s the hopeless romantic in me. But ever since I was little and learned the English language very early in my adopted life in the Midwest, I loved journals, documenting life and writing letters to friends. As a child, I had pen pals from summer camps. During high school, I’d write and notes to my friends. It always felt like secret, artful and meaningful correspondence.
The Struggles of Making Connections as an Adult Adoptee
Now that I’m an adult, I’ve longed to make those deep connections I could make so easily as a child. When you’re new in the world, it seems to be easier to make connections. When you’re older and especially as an adoptee – it is harder to feel that open, especially after you’ve felt the world split apart underneath you, or endured treacherous heartbreak and human loss, climbed through molten trials and have come back from the hardest places, to live normally in the collective struggles of everyday life with everyone else.
The Importance of Sharing
This is why I think it’s important to keep trying, to keep weaving connections, keep living your dreams and keep sharing your life with others. What has gotten me through this life has been my connections with others, so I wanted to reach out to the intercountry adoptee community to offer my old-fashioned, letter-writing correspondence to anyone who would like to share with me.
Writing Pen Pal Letters Infused with Creative Writing
I’m a creative writer at heart so my letters can be raw and descriptive. I started my first letter batch this month and found myself diving into how I was born into the world and what I’m doing now. I dove into my offbeat views, kindred love of romantic things, at times I was reflcting on a perplexing situation, attempting to be funny, or rattling about my philosophies. My writing dwells, explores, ventures into dreamland and then reaches high into positive affirmations. It’s non-scripted, contemplative and free-hand styled.
Open to Any Subjects or Adoptee Subjects
I’m open to writing about easy and difficult subjects. I’m open to share about the hardest things I’ve experienced and love. We can write about life, subjects from A to Z, we can write humor-filled letters or nonsense. I can bring in as much information as I can about my experience as an adoptee, if anyone ever has any questions too. I’ve also hosted creative writing and journal writing workshops and am acquainted with holding a safe, free and nonjudgmental space for those that need to express themselves.
About the Writer
I’m just here as a multi-dimensional pen pal with a zest for life. I am an intercountry adoptee in Northern Arizona, on the verge of starting my life or figuring out my life after recently being a library assistant and writer. I’m a 32-year-old woman who can admit to being a total late bloomer. I’m a spiritual-minded meditation practitioner who is working on healing from a difficult past in my own offbeat ways. I’m a soft-spoken dreamer and have a writer’s personality in real life, so this will be good for me too.
The main thing is that I’m here to share but mostly listen to you. Learn about you. Be a friend that is non-judgmental and supportive. The pen pal effort is an international effort that hopefully will be meaningful and insightful. The pen pal writing will be here for as long as you need this in your life.
My plan is to write a pen pal letter once-a-month depending on our correspondence. This effort will be via email, but ideally it’d be nice to do this completely the old-fashioned way once I have a stable mailing address.
Click on the link above. You will then be asked to OPEN or SAVE the file. If you want to watch it – click OPEN. If you want to keep the file – click SAVE.
This is a Microsoft PowerPoint slide show with audio inserted in most pages.
Click onto the speaker symbol on the middle of the page and hit the play button.
The powerpoint show is about my own DNA History. How I became who I am today. How did I get British gene’s? Japanese? Chinese? And Korean? Is it coincidence that my birthday and my sister’s birthday have landed on Korean holidays that celebrate the Japanese liberation movement?
I use my background in Biology and History to explain how I think I became who I am today. It takes about 1-2 minutes to download. File size is 39.5MB.