Dear Adoption, I Have A Lot of Feelings,
There are so many things I have to say to you. You’ve been a part of my life for as long as I remember. The first day you entered my life, I was walking into my first-grade class with my Mulan book bag. A boy asked me why my mom was white and why I was a Chinita. From that moment on, it was pretty clear that you existed. I never had a formal sit down conversation with my parents about you, you just were. I have a lot of feelings about you, but there’s one thing I feel the world doesn’t quite know how to talk about: Privilege.
Someone once asked me why I felt uncomfortable applying to an internship that focused on Asian Americans. They asked if it was because I felt like I didn’t belong or if it was because I was privileged. I told them I felt like it was both. They reassured me that I was Asian American and not white, but it took a long time for me to accept that. After years of questioning (and there are days still I question), I know that I am part of the fabric of what makes up Asia America. I belong in these conversations because the world views me as Asian American. I will ultimately only be able to move through the world as an Asian American woman, no more and no less. So, they validated the second concern, but never actually explained why. This was more than a year ago, and it still echoes through my mind. Was I too privileged to work at an Asian American focused internship? The answer is complicated, and for this, I rely heavily on the works of Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw and Professor Patricia Hill Collins in understanding my answer: Privilege is just as intersectional as oppression.
You see, in some ways, as much as I hate to say it, being adopted has afforded me a certain level of privilege I am only able to begin to articulate. For example, at the age of 5, my parents applied for my United States citizenship. Citizenship alone has afforded me the privilege of traveling the world and has given me a protection that those who are undocumented in the United States do not have. Of course, not all adoptees share this privilege with me. The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 guaranteed international adoptee’s citizenship when U.S citizen parents adopted them (provided they jump through certain hoops in order to obtain it). Unfortunately, thousands of adoptees who were adopted before this Act are not grandfathered into the Act. Parents were told that applying for citizenship was not necessary for their children, so they either neglected to apply or the process was just flat out inaccessible which resulted in thousands of undocumented adoptees; some of which have been deported back to a country they have never been to since they left as infants/young children.
Don’t get me wrong…you, Adoption, are not a privilege. To say that being adopted is a privilege is the equivalent of saying that someone is privileged for being born. That doesn’t make sense now, does it? I am reminded daily of the stigma of adoption and have to deal with a plethora of microaggressions that biological children never have to think about. I have no knowledge of my past, and I have scoured DNA websites trying to piece anything together, but it’s impossible. I was removed from my culture, from my native tongue, from the food I now crave at 3 in the morning, yet never tasted… You have given me doubts and nagging voices in the back of my head I will never be able to justify being given a “second chance.” Please understand, while you affect hundreds of thousands of lives, the only one I can speak for is my own. You’ve taught me great things, but you’ve also been really shitty. Yes, I have a level of privilege you have afforded me, more than I care to list in this letter, but it is not without consequences and without the other oppressions you have placed on me.
Privilege is a hard thing to talk about, but it’s particularly hard to talk about in regards to you. You see, you didn’t place all adoptees in equitable situations. In fact, you are just as random as being born. Not all of us grew up with college educated parents, in upper-middle class homes, had the resources to navigate/apply to college, lived in stable households, loving homes, or so many other situations. You have given us all different levels of privileges and oppressions that everyone else experiences, in addition to your burden. To answer the question above: Yes, I am privileged as an Asian American adoptee, but that does not diminish the oppression I experience as an Asian American adoptee. Oppression and Privilege are not achievements to level up. They can change drastically depending on the geographic location, time period, and a million of other factors. Transracial Asian American adoptees (children who are raised by parents of a different race) grow up in a very different setting than many other Asian Americans, but that doesn’t make the experience any less of an Asian American issue.
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All adoptees are removed from and denied access to their roots-all of which include so-called culture, languages, religions, cravings for food, and the desire to be with those who share our origins, whatever they may be. But these things are really artificial conscripts, just as the geo-political regions attached to groups, just as the habit to make another who is not like the group ‘the other’.
DNA changes the games humans play in attempting to characterize one another as this, that, or the other, or to label us as a hyphenated being or as some entity. DNA clearly if nothing else cuts to the chase and underlines the fact that all humanity is 99.0% ALIKE, leaving only 1% +/- different; that a gene (SLC45A2) is responsible for regulating the melanin levels which give protection from the sun’s UV rays in direct relationship to the locality of the sun. Other physical differences are attributable to survival in adaptation to a place that is different from the place before it. Neither has anything to do with ‘race’-another artificial construct devised by humans… humans with control issues.
What DNA can do for you is a) to give you an idea of the migratory regions your ancestors traversed. If you have more than an autosomal analysis performed, you can discover your deeper (ancient) ancestors via an mtDNA test; this will give you a Haplogroup and the earliest history of your first Mitochondrial mother. Using Asian as a self description is a very broad notion … anyone with middle eastern roots or Caucasian is also Asian. b) it can give you a map of those genetically related to you-cousins, but probably not parent(s) or full sibs. Only 2% of those tested will find a close family (ie immediate) member like father, mother, etc.
There are groups in the US made up of adoptees like you searching for their families… New York Times reports of these groups are abundant. You may want to check the Times’ bibliography or archives to review this information. Or contact the consul of your birth country to enquire about the policy for international adoptee reunion with birth family.
I hope you find your peace and the information that is yours-and only yours-to have.
Best wishes from a very non-privileged adoptee who knows that blessings come in various ways to those who see them for what they are.