Dear Adoption, I Climbed
Stories were an enormous piece of my childhood. Some nights, my parents spoiled me with three bedtime stories, or we would watch a Disney movie that I could quote in its entirety when I was four years old. My favorite bedtime stories included international adoption tales like “Over the Moon” and “I Love You Like Crazy Cakes.” Even at four years old, I understood that my mom and dad flew to China to get me, and they loved me with all their hearts. I knew that I had birth parents who left me on the side of a bridge, and I was put in an orphanage. But that only fueled my overactive imagination.
My birth parents became the most interesting, unsolved mystery of my life. My daydreams starred them as the king and queen of China, and I was the lost princess. Or, they were famous movie stars, who did not want their public images tainted by having a baby. Whatever the fantasy, the story culminated in my Asian birth parents appearing on my doorstep, begging for forgiveness, and pleading with me to accept them back. I always politely turned down the offer because I love my parents and siblings more than anything. But I was only six, so yes, I would kindly accept compensation for their actions in the form of Barbies. (I know these stories are wild; I blame Disney for glorifying abandonment.)
I thought that school would be my next adventure, but socially thriving as the only Asian from a middle class family in a sea of rich children who were always given everything they wanted proved a challenge. My parents looked just like their parents, but I didn’t look like anyone. I wanted so desperately to fit in. No matter how hard I tried, I became hyperaware of my differences.
Kids can be cruel.
Kids will announce to the class that you only get good grades because you’re Chinese.
Kids will squint their eyes into slits to “imitate you.”
Kids will butcher an Asian accent to “sound like your ancestors.”
Kids will badger you because you’re not pretty enough.
Kids will stop speaking to you because being your friend makes them uncool.
Kids will imitate your brother’s mannerisms and call him names to make others laugh.
Kids will tie your brother to a fence and hit him because it makes them feel powerful.
Kids will ask why your real parents didn’t want you.
Kids are capable of unimaginable racism and entitlement and violence. Being a kid should not excuse actions that are wrong, and hurtful, and damaging.
I begged my parents to quit Chinese dance lessons. I shoved the adoption books under my bed. I stewed in silence as my family celebrated my Adoption Day. I started laughing at Asian jokes in an attempt to distance myself from my culture. My journals that were once filled with dreams of returning to China were replaced with sketches of myself with blonde hair and a “normal-looking” family.
I was plagued with a crippling fear that I would never amount to anything, because success only came to people with fair skin, light hair, and big eyes. I wasn’t beautiful. I was now thirteen with bad skin, glasses, braces, and I didn’t speak in class. I didn’t speak up for myself or my brother, because I was petrified.
My parents pulled us from the upscale Catholic school, and we transferred to our local public school, which was much more diverse. They wished they could pull us from the self-doubt and toxicity that it left.
The question “Why didn’t your real parents want you?” continued to haunt me. I look back on how I once fantasized about my birth parents when in reality, their situation was very tragic. For a while, I was simply convinced that my birth parents just didn’t care about me. But I realized it was close-minded to oversimplify the gravity of such a decision.
I learned more about China’s one-child policy and the preference for baby boys… But I also have a lot of trouble wrapping my mind around all that. I don’t know much about my biological parents, but I do know that they kept me for five months before leaving me in a very public place. They tried to keep me, but when they couldn’t, they wanted me to be found. After going through the pregnancy, giving birth, and raising a child for five months… I just imagine it’d be heartbreaking to leave that baby on the side of a bridge for a stranger to find, knowing that you may never see her again and praying that you made the right decision.
I hold no resentment for people forced into those circumstances.
I have no immediate desire to search, and I have very little information to go on, but finding them has never kept me up at night. This is actually a scary thought for me. What if they don’t want to see me? What if they passed away years ago? Thinking practically, it might also be kind of awkward – “Hey, you gave birth to me, raised me for five months, and I’m back! And I don’t speak your language… Like, at all.”
But I do think that if I found them, I would cry. I would see what features I got from what parent. And I would thank them for always being part of me.
It was an uphill battle to regain the confidence that was brutally stripped away in elementary and middle school. But I climbed. I largely credit this to my high school theater teacher, who showed me that my voice is important. He gave me an outlet for self-expression in a field with a shortage of Asian American women, and he reminded me that being unique was one of the best traits that I could possess as an artist.
These priceless lessons led to my fearless pursuit of an acting career (to become a piece of the stories that inspired me as a child). They inspired me to reach my full potential, and I became valedictorian of my class (because I worked hard, not because I was Chinese). They are the reason that I won 2015 Pacific Miss Asian American (and realized that outer beauty isn’t everything). Most importantly, they are my foundation for all of my dreams about the mark I want to leave on this world.
My parents made me feel like a success before I became one. I wish I could go back and tell that one kid who asked “why my real parents didn’t want me” that my REAL parents changed every diaper on the flight home from China. They took pictures at every piano recital, dance performance, and belt test – and they insist on front row seats to all my shows even when I only have like, three lines.
My real dad is a bigshot at the Pentagon, but at home, all he does is spout Dad jokes. He dropped everything at work in the middle of the day, picked me up on the side of the road, and got me to that audition on time. My real mom came to every pageant appearance and then spent weeks researching designs and hand sewing my gown. She ignored a fight we had one night to comfort me at 1:00 AM so I didn’t go to bed crying over a break-up.
My parents so desperately wanted a child of their own… and I became that joy in their lives.
Even still, sometimes, I don’t feel Asian enough to fit in with Asian people. I don’t look American enough to fit in with white people. It’s a dilemma that I have only recently learned to love and accept.
But I’m not afraid to speak up now. I am not afraid to embrace my heritage. I am not afraid for others to see me as I truly am.
It is my wish that any adoptees who are reading this and struggling with feeling different and isolated will know one thing: adoption doesn’t define you. Your past does not dictate the future. You have hundreds of little, weird, honest sides of your personality that make you, you. Your adoption is only one puzzle piece of what makes you a beautiful, complex human being full of love, loss, laughter, imperfections, dreams, and stories.