Where do I belong?

by Charisse Maria Diaz, born as Mary Pike Law, cross cultural adoptee born in Puerto Rico

Pote de leche are Spanish words for “milk bottle”. Where I was born, this is how someone is described when they are too white. Yes, too white. That is what I was called at school when bullied. In my teens, I spent many Sundays sunbathing in the backyard of our home. This was one of the many ways I tried to fit in.

My tendency has been to consider myself a transcultural adoptee and not a transracial adoptee, because my adoptive parents were Caucasian like me. Recently, I realized their looks do not make my experience too different from the experience of any transracial adoptee. I was born in Puerto Rico from an American mother and English father and adopted by a Puerto Rican couple. Puerto Ricans have a mix of Native Taino, European and African genes, our skin colors are as varied as the colors of a rainbow. The most common skin tones go from golden honey to cinnamon. For some, I looked like a little milk-colored ghost.

My adoptive mother told me that an effort was made by the Social Services Department, which oversaw my adoption process, to make the closest match possible. She said the only things that did not “match” with her and my adoptive father were my red hair and my parents’ (actually, my natural father’s) religion. I was supposed to be an Anglican but was going to be raised as a Catholic. This was part of the brief information she gave me about my parents, when she confessed that they were not dead as I had been told at 7 years old. She also admitted that I was not born in Quebec, which they also made me believe. I was born in Ponce, the biggest city on the southern shore of the island. She gave me this information when I was 21 years old.

So, at 21 years of age, I discovered that I was a legitimate Puerto Rican born in the island, and also that my natural father was an English engineer and my natural mother was Canadian. I was happy about the first fact and astonished about the rest. Suddenly, I was half English and half Canadian. At 48 years old I found my original family on my mother’s side. Then I discovered this was a misleading fact about my mother. She was an American who happened to be born in Ontario because my grandfather was working there by that time. I grew up believing I was a Québéquois, after that I spent more than two decades believing that I was half Canadian. All my life I had believed things about myself that were not true.

I learned another extremely important fact about my mother. She was an abstract-expressionist painter, a detail that was hidden by my adoptive family in spite of my obvious artistic talent. I started drawing on walls at 2 years old. My adoptive parents believed that art was to be nothing more than a hobby, it was not a worthy field for an intelligent girl who respected herself and that happened to be their daughter. This did not stop me, anyway. After a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and a short career as a copywriter, I became a full-time painter at the age of 30. To discover that my mother was a painter, years later, was mind-blowing.

Identity construction or identity formation is the process in which humans develop a clear and unique view of themselves, of who they are. According to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development, this process takes place during our teen years, where we explore many aspects of our identities. It concludes at 18 years old, or, as more recent research suggests, in the early twenties. By that age we should have developed a clear vision of the person we are. How was I supposed to reach a conclusion about who I was, when I lacked important information about myself?

My search for my original family started when there was no internet, and it took me more than 20 years to find them. I did not arrive in time to meet my mother. A lifelong smoker, she had died of lung cancer. I connected with my half-siblings, all of them older than me. They were born during her marriage previous to her relationship with my father. Two of them were old enough to remember her pregnancy. They had been enthusiastically waiting for the new baby, just to be told that I was stillborn, news that hurt them so much. Before she passed away, my mother confessed to my siblings that I was relinquished for adoption. Through them, I learned what a difficult choice it was for my mother to let me go.

During my search, well-known discrimination against Latinos in sectors of the American culture gave me an additional motive to fear rejection. I didn’t know I had nothing to worry about. My siblings welcomed me with open arms. Reconnecting with them has been such a heartwarming, comforting, life-changing experience. We are united not only by blood, but also by art, music, literature, and by ideas in common about so many things, including our rejection of racism. It was baffling to learn that my opinions about society and politics are so similar to my natural parents’ points of view, which were different, and sometimes even opposite to my adoptive parents’ beliefs.

My siblings remember my father, their stepfather, fondly. With their help I was able to confirm on the Internet that he had passed away too. His life was a mystery not only to me, but to them too. A few years later, I finally discovered his whereabouts. He lived many years in Australia and was a community broadcasting pioneer. A classical music lover, he helped to establish Sydney-based radio station 2MBS-FM and worked to promote the growth of the public broadcasting sector. His contributions granted him the distinction of being appointed OBE by the British government. My mind was blown away for a second time when I learned that he had dedicated his life to a field related to mass communication, which was my career of choice before painting. My eldest half-brother on his side was the first relative I was able to contact. “Quite a surprise!”, he wrote the day he found out that he had a new sister. Huge surprise, indeed. My father never told anyone about my existence. Now I got to know my half-siblings and other family members on his side too. They are a big family, and I am delighted to keep in touch with them.

My early childhood photo

With each new piece of information about my parents and my heritage, adjustments had to be made to the concept of who I am. To be an international, transcultural, transracial adoptee can be terribly disorienting. We grow up wondering not only about our original families, but also about our cultural roots. We grow up feeling we are different from everyone around us, in so many subtle and not so subtle ways… In my case, feeling I am Puerto Rican, but not completely Puerto Rican. Because I may consider myself a true Boricua (the Taino demonym after the original name of the island, Borikén), but in tourist areas people address me in English, and some are astonished to hear me answer in Spanish. More recently, I have pondered if my reserved nature, my formal demeanor, my cool reactions may be inherited English traits. And getting to know about my parents, even some of my tastes, like what I like to eat and the music I love, has made more sense. But in cultural terms I am not American or British enough to be able to wholly consider myself any of these. Where do I belong, then? And how can I achieve completion of my identity under these conditions? It is a natural human need to belong. Many times I have felt rootless. In limbo.

A great number of international adoptees have been adopted into Anglo-Saxon countries, mostly United States and Australia, and many of them come from places considered developing countries. The international adoptee community, which has found in social media a great tool to communicate, receive and give support, and get organized, encourages transracial and transcultural adoptees to connect with their roots. My case is a rare one, because it is the opposite of the majority. I was adopted from the Anglo-Saxon culture to a Latin American culture. I never imagined that this would put me in a delicate position.

Puerto Rico has a 500-year-old Hispanic culture. I am in love with the Spanish language, with its richness and infinite subtleties. I feel so honored and grateful to have this as my first language. We study the English language starting at first grade of elementary school, because we are a United States’ territory since 1898, as a result of the Spanish-American war. We are United States citizens since 1914. We have an independentist sector and an autonomist sector which are very protective of our culture. Historically, there has been a generalized resistance to learning English. In my case, I seem to have some ability with languages and made a conscious effort to achieve fluency, for practical reasons but also because it is the language of my parents and my ancestors.

In 2019 I traveled to Connecticut to meet my eldest half-brother on my mother’s side. That year, a close friend who knew about my reunion with natural family told me that someone in our circle had criticized the frequency of my social media posts in the English language. Now that I am in touch with my family, I have been posting more content in English, and it seems this makes some people uncomfortable. But the most surprising part is that even a member of my natural family has told me that I am a real Boricua and should be proud of it. I was astonished. Who says I am not proud? I have no doubt that this person had good intentions, but no one can do this for me. Who or what I am is for me to decide. But the point is some people seem to believe that connecting with my Anglo-Saxon roots implies a rejection of Puerto Rican culture or that I consider being Puerto Rican an inferior condition, something not far from racism. Nothing could be farther from the truth! I was born in Puerto Rico and love my culture.

Puerto Rico’s situation is complicated, in consequence my identity issues became complicated. I am aware of our island’s subordinated position to a Caucasian English-speaking country; that this circumstance has caused injustices against our people; that our uniqueness needs to be protected and celebrated. Being aware sometimes makes our lives more difficult, because we understand the deep implications of situations. There was a time when I felt torn by the awareness of my reality: being Puerto Rican and also being linked by my ancestry to two cultures which for centuries dedicated their efforts to Imperialism. I am even related through my father to Admiral Horatio Nelson, a historical character that embodies British imperialism. How to reconcile that to my island’s colonial history and situation? Where I was going to put my loyalty? To feel that I was being judged for reconnecting to my original cultures – something every international adoptee is encouraged to do – did not help me in the task of answering these difficult questions.

Even when they were not perfect and made mistakes, my natural parents were good people with qualities I admire. The more I get to know them, the more I love them. The more I know them, the more I see them in me. If I love them, I cannot reject where they came from, which is also a basic part of who I am. Therefore, I have concluded that I cannot exclude their cultures from my identity construction process.

To connect to these cultures until I feel they are also mine is a process. I am not sure if I will ever achieve this, but I am determined to go through this process without any feelings of guilt. To do so is a duty to myself, to be able to become whole and have a real, or at least a better sense of who I am. And it is not only a duty, it is also my right.

America—You Made It Hard to Be Proud to Be Asian-American

by Mary Choi Robinson, adopted from South Korea to the USA

As I sit down to my laptop it is May 2, the second day of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Awareness Month and I reflect on Alice Wu’s The Half of It I watched last night to commemorate the first day of AAPI month. Watching the movie with my daughter, I thought how I wished it or something like it had been available when I was a teenager or even in my early twenties. To see an entire film focused on the life of a young Asian woman on the cusp of self-discovery and adulthood would have made me feel seen and a part of the fabric of American identity. So while this month is meant to showcase AAPI heritage I am not in fact proud to be Asian-American…yet.

I am sure my previous statement will elicit reactions from disbelief, to shock, to anger, and everything in between from varying groups of identities. So let me explain why I am not proud yet, how America made it nearly impossible for me to be proud, and how I’m gaining pride in my Asianness. As a Korean adoptee, raised by white parents in predominately-white areas, I have always navigated two racial worlds that often oppose each other and forever contradict my identity. The whiteness of my parents did not insulate or protect me from racism and in fact would even appear at home. When I first arrived to the US, my sister, my parent’s biological child, took me in as her show and tell for school with our parents’ blessing. Her all white classmates and teacher were fascinated with me and some even touched my “beautiful silky shiny jet black” hair, something that would continue into my early thirties until I realized I did not have to allow people to touch my hair. Although I start with this story, this is not a piece about being a transracial, transnational adoptee—that is for another day, maybe in November for National Adoption Awareness Month—but to illustrate how my Asian identity exists in America.

As I grew up, I rarely saw other Asians let alone interacted with them. Instead, I lived in a white world full of Barbie, blonde hair and blue eyes in movies, television shows, magazines, and classrooms. The rare times I did see Asians in person were once a year at the Chinese restaurant to celebrate my adoption day or exaggerated or exocticized caricatures in movies and tv shows. Think Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Long Duck Dong in Sixteen Candles, or Ling Ling the “exotic gem of the East” in Bewitched. Imagine instead an America where Wu’s film or To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before or Crazy Rich Asian or Fresh Off the Boat or Kim’s Convenience would have opened up for generations of Asian Americans. Rarely would I spot another Asian in the school halls. However, I could never form friendships with them, heavens no, they were real full Asians and society had taught me they were weird, ate strange smelly things, talked funny, and my inner adolescent warned me association with “them” would only make me more of an outsider, more Asian. In classrooms from K-12 and even in college, all eyes, often including the teacher, turned to me when anything about an Asian subject, regardless of whether it was about China, Vietnam, Korea, etc., as the expert to either verify or deny the material. I always dreaded when the material even had the mention of an Asian country or food or whatever and would immediately turn red-faced and hot while I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pant legs until the teacher moved on, hoping the entire time I would not be called on as an expert like so many times before.

My white family and white friends would lull me into a false sense of belonging and whiteness by association. That false sense of security would shatter when they so easily and spontaneously weaponized my Asianness against me with racial slurs during arguments. Of course, I was used to racist verbal attacks from complete strangers, I had grown up on a diet of it, but it especially pained me from friends and family. The intimacy of those relationships turned the racism into acts of betrayal. That was the blatant racism; the subtle subversive racism caused just as much damage to my sense of pride. As a young professional in my early twenties, a white colleague told me how beautiful I was “for an Asian girl.” A Latina student in one of my courses loudly and clearly stated, “The first day of class, I was so worried I wouldn’t be able to understand you and I’m so glad your English is so good!” And of course I regularly receive the always popular, “Where are you from? No, where are you really from?” Because Asian Americans, whether born here or not, are always seen as foreigners.

AAPI Awareness Month did not even become official until 1992. But anti-Asian sentiment in the US has a long history and was sealed in 1882 with the first national stance on anti-immigration that would be the catalyst for future immigration policies, better known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, coincidentally signed into law also in the month of May. In February 1942, the US rounded up and interned Japanese-Americans and Asian-Americans of non-Japanese decent after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Now in 2020 amidst the global lockdown of Covid-19, anti-Asian attacks, both verbal and physical, have increased to startling numbers. As recently as April 28, NBC News reported Over 30 percent of Americans have witnessed COVID-19 bias against Asians. Think about that—this is Americans reporting this not Asian Americans. The attacks have been worldwide but this report shows what Asian Americans are dealing with alongside the stress of the pandemic situation in the US. Keep in mind the attacks on Asian Americans are not just from white folks, indeed we’re fair game for everyone as evidenced by Jose Gomez’s attempt to murder an Asian American family including a two-year old child in Midland, Texas in March. Let that sink in—a two-year old child simply because they are Asian! Asians are being spat on, sprayed, and worse by every racial group.

To help combat this current wave of American anti-Asian sentiment, highly visible leader and former presidential candidate, Andrew Yang advised Asian Americans in a Washington Post op-ed to:

“…embrace and show our American-ness in ways we never have before. We need to step up, help our neighbors, donate gear, vote, wear red white and blue, volunteer, fund aid organizations, and do everything in our power to accelerate the end of this crisis. We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need.”

My reaction to Mr. Yang’s response bordered on anger at the implication for Asian Americans to continue the perpetuation of the model minority myth. The danger of which, besides reinforcing divides between racial and minority groups, extols the virtue of suffer in silence. Do not make waves, keep your head down, be a “good” American. Sorry Mr. Yang, I am finally gaining pride in my Asianess and I cannot and will not stay silent any longer.

It has taken me my whole life to gain nuggets of pride in my Asian identity. Now I appreciate the color of my tan skin and dark almond-shaped eyes and no longer compare my physical beauty to white women and the standards society has forced on us all. For the first time I actually see myself, and all Asian women and men, as beautiful because of and not in spite of being Asian. I no longer avoid other Asians and cherish friendships with those who look like me. I love to explore the diversity of Asian cuisines, cultures, and traditions and continue to learn about them since, remember, “Asian” is diverse and not a monolith of just one culture. Now I speak up without fear of rejection or lack of acceptance when I witness anti-Asian or any racist behavior and use those moments as teaching opportunities whenever I can. I no longer resent not being able to pass as white. I am becoming proud to be Asian.

Read Mary’s earlier blog My Adoption Day Is An Anniversary of Loss

A Journey in Re-defining My Identity

by Maya Fleischmann, a transracial adoptee born in Hong Kong, adopted into a Jewish Russian adoptive family. Author of the fictional book Finding Ching Ha, A Novel.

“The more you know yourself, the more clarity there is. Self-knowledge has no end – you don’t come to an achievement, you don’t come to a conclusion. It is an endless river.”

Jiddu Krishnamurti

The journey of self-discovery

This quest to discover who we really are is the stuff that novels and movies are made of. Though our self-perception transforms with time, events, social, and physical settings that alter our connectedness with different people, groups, and places, the foundation upon which we build our identity remains the same (although the perception of historical events can change). As an intercultural adoptee, my unknown beginnings have been an unstable bedrock in the explorations of my identity.

Who am I? In 1972, I was adopted by a Russian Jewish expat couple living in Hong Kong. I was three, or maybe four years old (my adoptive parents had told me both ages, so I am going by my fake birth certificate that was issued four years after my date of birth, also listed on the same certificate). I was raised in a household that observed Jewish traditions as well as Chinese and Russian holidays, such as Chinese New Year, and Russian Easter and Christmas. We also celebrated holidays, such as Boxing Day and the Queen’s birthday, that were observed by my British school and the-then-British Crown Colony of Hong Kong. Memories of my years before four are a blur of nightmares and dreams, memories and fantasies. I am not sure which is which anymore, which is why I wrote Finding Ching Ha, my novel about a Chinese girl who is adopted by a Russian Jewish couple, as fiction. 

Where am I from?

I remember asking my parents this question once, maybe twice, in their lifetime. I remember the way they looked at me, eyes large, teeth digging into lips, fingers fidgeting with imaginary dirt under nails, and them looking away. It conjured an awkwardness and angst, as though I had caught them having sex, that I didn’t broach the topic of my Chinese ancestry with them again. I didn’t ask, and they never did tell me, what, or if, they knew of my past. 

Although my multi-cultural background was a conversation starter for as long as I can remember; my lack of foundation, and my insecurities about my unknown origins, made it difficult for me to respond to the questions and comments that I encountered. I was always flummoxed by perceptions and judgements people made that negated my beginnings, my history, my life. “Oh, you’re not Jewish if you haven’t been bat mitzvahed.” “You’re not really Chinese if you don’t speak Chinese.” “Your adoptive parents’ Russian history isn’t your heritage, because they’re not your real parents.” “Aren’t you a lucky little girl to have been adopted?” “Who knows what your background is?” And each remark about my identity was made as nonchalantly to me as if they were recommending a menu item, “Oh, don’t order the soup. You won’t like it.”

Growing up with all these pronouncements made me wonder about my identity – or lack thereof. If I wasn’t entitled to my Chinese heritage because I had been adopted out of it, and I wasn’t entitled to partake in any ownership of my parents’ history because I wasn’t born into it, then who exactly was I? Where did I belong? Even the British (albeit Hong Kong British) identity I embraced the most as a child, disappeared in 1997 during the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China. 

At an early age, the answer was for me to disown my Chinese background. More and more I noticed my Chinese face in the synagogue, and social circles filled with Westerners, or at the parties where everyone who looked like me was serving food or washing dishes. And, with this awareness, came annoyance and shame about being Chinese, not fitting into the country of my birth, nor into the home of my new family. Even as an adult, I shied away from organizations that were based on my ethnicity, lest I be asked, “how can you be born and raised in Hong Kong, be Chinese, and not speak Cantonese?” Instead, I joined groups and made friends based on common interests like reading, writing, or parenthood. 

As the base of experience in life grew, I became more comfortable in my sense of self, as well as the subject of my missing self. With Finding Ching Ha, I struggled to convey how Ching Ha assimilated into the different cultures of her new life. Writing this made me realize that my own childhood shame and self doubt, the triggers to unidentifiable emotions, and my angst in eking out an identity in the mosaic of cultures, were real and challenging. Writing the novel helped me make sense of my own emotions growing up and come to terms with some of these complexities. 

Who am I today?

I’m in my fifties now. The sense of being ungrounded has faded. I have created a family history with my own husband and children. My feng-shui’d household is infused with traditions and stories from Russian and Chinese cultures, the Jewish traditions, and a sprinkle of Buddhist and Stoic insights for good measure. Still, in a culture filled with contentious conversations about race, where boundaries are so clearly defined, even when there are many people of mixed race, I find myself still wondering about my past — especially when I fill out medical forms inquiring about family history. So, a week ago, I decided to take a DNA test. Perhaps I can learn about my genetic makeup, and glean insight into current and future medical conditions, or get confirmation that I am 100% Chinese. Ultimately, my deep desire is to find someone, or something, that will quell the dream and voice that wonders if there is someone looking for me.

If in two weeks the DNA results reveal nothing new, I won’t be too disappointed because I have found familiarity in the unanswered questions. Though there will be no one to tell me the tale of my origins, my journey of self discovery will continue, for I am the writer for the rest of my story. 

Since the writing of this article, Maya has received her DNA results. Click here to read her blog post and find out what she discovered: https://findingchingha.com/blog/finding-family/

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Maya Fleischmann is a freelance writer and the author of Finding Ching Ha and If You Give a Mum a Minute. Her book reviews are published in book industry trade journals, such as Foreword Magazine, Publishers Weekly, BookPage, and Audiofile Magazine. Her stories and articles have appeared in travel and cultural magazines and books, to include Peril and Chicken Soup for the Working Mom’s Soul. You can find out more about Maya at mayafleischmann.com and findingchingha.com. Finding Ching Ha: A Novel, is available in paperback and ebook on Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble and Kobo and other leading bookstores.

Adoption and the Impact on our Partners

by Brian who is married to an intercountry adoptee, who has lived an illegal intercountry adoption. We have changed the names and places in this story to protect identities.

My name is Brian and I’m married to an intercountry adoptee. I am sharing my story to help people understand how sensitive and hurtful adoption is, to everyone involved, particularly the adoptee.

Merely telling the adoptee story does not tell the whole story. Adoption is like the detonation of an atomic bomb. The fallout from adoption adversely affects others who surround the adoptee.

How We Met

I met Melissa in the latter half of 1998, in the capital of her birth country. When we met, I was a First Officer (Co-pilot) flying Boeing 747-200 jumbo jets. I did my lay-overs in the same hotel where Melissa was. At that time, she was in the hotel being interviewed by a media scrum in the hotel lobby. I was merely curious on what all the fuss was about. Two weeks earlier, I had seen her being interviewed on television. I thought to myself, “What a sweet, well-spoken, pretty girl. Why can’t I meet someone like her.” Little did I know then.

So I knew that she was there, in the capital of her birth country, to meet her biological parents. But I didn’t really know all the background to Melissa’s adoption or the complications and her turmoil.

I have spent a lot of years flying throughout Asia and staying for varying lengths of time.  Asia has so many unique cultures and each one mysterious. I have always liked visiting smoky Buddhist, Confucian, or Taoist Temples. My first visit to Asia was in 1985 to Hong Kong, twelve years before it came under the hammer and sickle and the five star trademark of Communist China. I taught Melissa how to use chopsticks.

That said, I was aware of the dirty deals, the corruption at the highest levels, payoffs and other forms of guanxi (关系), smiles, relationships, respect for and some knowledge of their languages and cultures by foreigners and knowing that money gets things done. For example, a Tourist Visa converted to a Work Visa by an employer’s handler/translator.

Melissa and I saw each other over the next six months during my lay-overs in the capital of her birth country. Sometimes we could only see each other for 5 minutes but it was rejuvenating and it sustained me whilst I flew off to some other part of the world.  Melissa was always in my thoughts. I remember I would buy her some unique gift from some country and mail it to her. On our last meeting, we walked to the park where I proposed marriage to a shocked Melissa.

After that, I began my Captain upgrade and transition training at Boeing to fly new Boeing 747-400 aircraft. I could not see Melissa and I did not fly to the capital of her birth country again until after I became a Captain. She was not there anyway. She had returned to Australia with her adoptive Australian parents, John and Jane. 

I eventually got to be with Melissa again to continue our relationship. I attempted to get to Australia but our plans we made were frustrated. When I did arrive, I was shocked to learn Melissa had moved out of her parents home. She was living on her own for some time. She was renting was some cold, damp, back room with no real privacy, and all sorts of unsavoury characters visiting, smoking and looked like druggies to me. Melissa’s landlord was renting the place, so I am not sure if sub-renting to Melissa was even legal. But that is the position Melissa was in. When I was in Melbourne, I had a nice suite downtown. I stayed there every month, thereafter. Eventually however, I rented an apartment – and truthfully, it was only a little better than where she had been staying, but it was our nest and it was convenient to downtown. I had also been renting a car so we could go for drives, visit her parents and do whatever.

It was a bit puzzling and concerning why Melissa left home but I never got the full story.  

Immigrating to her Adoptive Country

Sometime after I arrived in Australia, I learned the letters and packages I had mailed to Melissa were simply discarded or hidden by Jane, Melissa’s adoptive mother. Her younger sister recovered some. Perhaps Melissa thought I lost interest, while I was away in other parts of the world or when I was in training at Boeing. I can absolutely assure you, she was always on my mind and I was eager to see her as soon as my training was completed. Jane’s actions were unfair for both of us because it left Melissa more vulnerable.  

An Immigration Officer commented that I was visiting Australia so often that I should consider applying for Permanent Residency, so I did. In July 2001, filling out the paperwork myself and paying the fee I merely trusted the process because I was a Boeing 747-400 captain, a professional with a decent income, self-funded, a former Army officer and a Native English speaker. I assumed that immigrating to Australia would be a walk in the park. Make no mistake about it, the Department of Immigration are true bastards. They made our life hell unnecessarily. I was issued an 820N Spouse Visa with No-Right-To-Work.

Melissa and I married on 5 March 1997 in Los Angeles. I started a contract with another airline, flying the older versions of the Boeing 747 as a Captain. Sadly I lost my job as a Captain because of the dirty games the Department of Immigration play. I will NEVER forgive them for that. They played every dirty trick in their playbook to win. They claimed they lost my entire case file (including electronic copies?) just before going to the Migration Review Tribunal. Fortunately my Migration Agent and I had all the documents and submissions, either in original or Certified True Copy. I finally earned Permanent Residency in 2003 and I became an Australian citizen in 2005.

This was an extremely stressful period of time for both Melissa and I. It was deliberately made that way, by Department of Immigration. I lost my career. Lost my dignity. Lost my income. And, I believe like other Spouse Visa couples we had come to know and who could not stand up to Immigration’s bullshit, they expected us to fail. When we saw those couples separate, it made us worry about our future, but it seemed to make us more resilient and determined. We lived in a small, one bedroom room apartment and drove an old Volvo 244DL. We lived very frugally. I had to appeal to the Migration Review Tribunal because my application was rejected, even though we were legally married, because I lacked 11 days out of 12 months in the country and there was just no way I could make them understand that travel is a big part of an international airline captain’s life. They were just bloody-minded obstructionist.

Dealing with Adoptive Family Dynamics

Add to all that, Melissa and I were under duress from her adoptive mother, Jane. I remember phone calls that started out calmly and would become argumentative.  Melissa would be in tears when she got off the phone. I would discourage her from calling in the future, but Melissa seemed compelled. It was usually the same scene when she would go to visit. It was hard for me to just sit there without defending her but I had to. At one point, I threatened to file a law suit if Jane did not desist with her bullying and abuse. There was a point in time when I was unwelcome in the house. I would sit outside, waiting for Melissa in the Volvo. Jane always had some form of psychological control of Melissa and Melissa always seemed to go back for more abuse. Almost like self-flagellation. It feels so good when it stops.

I got my Aviation career partially back on track 2006 when I was offered a contract as a Captain flying Boeing 737-800 aircraft in Hong Kong then in China. We were away five years, but Jane would call. She even came to visit! Even China was not far enough away. When I decided to buy a house, I decided to buy a house in Western Australia.  Yes, it is scenic and I love my photography but it was a necessary move to remove Melissa from the grasp of her adoptive mother. But Jane has visited a few times already.  The years from when Melissa was a tender young girl to present day have flown by.  She is now in her 40s, is stronger and stands up to her adoptive mother, but it has been a hard, rough, uphill road.  

Being supportive and sympathetic is not enough. Finding ways to make Melissa a stronger person and have the courage to stand up for what she believes in has given her a sharp edge that sometimes cuts me. I feel Melissa is unable to move on, towards normality. There’s something missing. It is some internal conflict. It’s almost like an illness, not the same as schizophrenia, but a bit of detachment from reality, sometimes she can lie in bed most of the day, not wanting to face the day or wake up to her life. 

Racism and It’s Impacts

Also, I think the innate racism in Australia has had a hand in Melissa knowing she is different, even though she speaks with a natural Aussie-girl accent and has spoken English at home since she came to Australia as an infant. Most white folks cannot tell a Korean from a Thai. And her Asian face has inspired some racists to come forward with “Go home Chink bitch!” Melbourne is home. Western Australia is home. That is all she has known. Even when Australians hear her speak, they cannot get beyond the Asian face. The best the ignoramuses can come up with is, “You speak good English” instead of correctly stating, “You speak English well” or saying nothing at all. When she tells them she is Australian or from Melbourne or Western Australia, the idiots retort with, “Where are you really from?”  They just cannot simply accept.

But it gets worse. During the five years we lived in China, twice she was physically assaulted by Chinese men because she only spoke English. Even there in China, they did not recognize her birth country origins and would ask her if she is Japanese or Korean. Worse, they just could not get their heads around her being adopted. In China, they would often remark that Chinese do not have freckles. But, they do in fact. The Chinese are about as racist as Australians.

I feel Melissa is in a no win situation. She is not accepted as an Australian and she is not accepted by her birth country. This contributes to her internal conflict. I have a foreign accent and I receive discriminatory remarks as well, but I deal with it differently.

Melissa is conflicted because she has two sets of parents and two versions of herself, neither reconciling with the other. In fact, she has had a DNA test that only adds to the confusion. 

I have spent a lot of time flying throughout Asia, staying for varying lengths of time in all the major capital cities. I know the reality of Asia i.e., that underhanded business occurs, like her forged documents. I remember one day examining her various identity documents and birth certificate. To me, the information looked suspect. I would doubt her name, birthdate, where she was born, etc. But suspecting this information to be false and being able to help Melissa do anything about it in reality is very hard, because who will tell the truth? Will her biological parents for whom saving face is so important? Or her adoptive parents who probably knew that what they were doing was questionable? Child-trafficking is a way of life and it is common knowledge that daughters are not valued as highly as a son in Asian cultures, even Western cultures.  I feel Melissa is lucky that she was not simply discarded, left in the rubbish, drowned, or trafficked for use and abuse by perverts. Often the child-trafficker will assure or falsely promise a birth-mother the child will go to a good home, a childless couple in another town or village. We all read the stories or watch the evening news.

Truthfully, had I known all of these complications and the loss of my career that I worked so hard to build, prior to meeting, I probably would not have pursued a relationship with Melissa regardless of how sweet and cute. But I did not have a crystal ball, did I? I just soldiered on.

Australia’s Lack of Response to an Illegal Adoption

I believe that the Australian government, the adoption agency, and Melissa’s adoptive parents were all complicit in her illegal adoption. There were no thorough investigations to check everything was genuine. Compare this to the rigorous investigations which occurred in order for me to become an Australian Permanent resident and then a Citizen, yet I have all manner of first class evidence to prove who I am. It seems as if the Australian government deliberately had one eye closed with Melissa’s adoption.

Regarding Melissa’s adoptive mother, Jane, I believe she is manipulative, conniving, and has her own mental issues, some of it wrapped around not being able to have her own biological children. I also felt all along that Melissa may have been sexually abused. Her adoptive father is somewhat spineless. He never seems to defend Melissa against Jane’s attacks and nasty words. Though I cannot prove it and have nothing to base it on, I have my suspicions and observations of Melissa’s behaviours and reactions. Melissa told me a story once, that she used to wrap her breasts to disguise them when she was young. I believe Jane precipitated this.

It has been 20 years of battle, protecting Melissa from her adoptive mother. This is why we live in Western Australia and not in Melbourne where Melissa grew up and where her adopted parents remain, although they’ve separated.

After I became aware of Melissa’s illegal adoption and before I really understood the clash between her and her adoptive mother, I decided that I would not bring Melissa to my homeland. I did not want to separate her from the only family she has known and also because I did not want her to change. Maybe that was a mistake. I also feel it is wrong for Caucasian adoptive parents to adopt non-Caucasian children. In my opinion this plays a large part in impacting an adoptee’s mental self-image.

Melissa remains the sweetest girl I have ever known and I love her but I wish she was not so complicated and conflicted.

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