A few weeks ago two undergraduates working on assignments at institutions on the respective coasts interviewed me. Their questions centered on my lived experiences as an adopted person who grew up in a predominately white environment. They also sought to better understand how I locate my civic engagement within the broader adoption community. But more importantly, their questions prompted my interest concerning the advice I would give to my younger self.
This desire to provide guidance also was shaped by participating in the inaugural video in new series from the An-Ya Project, the Lost Daughters, and KAAN (the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network) in my capacity as KAAN’s Assistant Director. The series aims to engage with adopted and fostered youth as well as members of the wider adoption constellation. In many ways it serves to complement the edited volume Dear Wonderful You (2014) published by the An-Ya Project. Please see the press release for more information.
Below is what I would say to the younger me:
- Be fierce. Feed your hunger for knowledge. If it was not for my personal passion to learn more about Asian American history and American militarism in Asia, I would never have gained knowledge about the No Gun Ri and My Lai massacres in Korea and Vietnam, respectively. My knowledge of internment would have been limited to the high school curriculum. My passion for history and increasing my comprehension of the Korean War would have been stifled. At the same time, I would never have stumbled across websites like ModelMinority.com or Monolid To fourteen-year-old girl in the suburbs of Western New York these sites quenched my thirst for Asian American community.
- Your birth search is your search; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. As I noted in my interview, be assertive and tell individuals that while you appreciate their help, this is not their search. To this end, be clear that comments such as “don’t you know your birth parents could die” are hostile aggressions that make assumptions that all adoptees search at the same time. This is not to minimize the loss experienced by adoptees or birth parents that discover that their birth parents or children, respectively, have passed on. Rather, this aggressive comment illustrates the emotional manipulation that occurs in conversations between adoptees and non-adopted persons. To threaten the potential death of a parent positions the adoptee as somehow deficient for not searching immediately. It also does not recognize that birth search is a complex journey for all parties involved. But more importantly, what we fail to realize is that not all adoptees elect to search. Instead we have come to see search as a natural part of the adopted person’s experience. The assumption that one searches implicitly renders those who do not search as pathological. At the same time, we cannot make assumptions concerning why adoptees decide to embark on a birth search.
This advice is what I told my younger self as I spoke alongside fabulous, strong women affiliated with the An-Ya Project and the Lost Daughters – Diane Rene Christian, Mei-Mei Ellerman and Amanda Transue Woolston. Yet, there’s two other pieces of advice I wish I could have told my eighteen-year-old self:
- Anyone who tells you that they “feel bad that your parents are white” undermines your lived reality. This microaggression assumes that there is only a singular Asian American experience. But don’t be surprised if you encounter this comment. Do feel empowered to stand up for yourself.
- There is not a single authentic Asian American experience. I entered my undergraduate institution with the hopes that I would “find my Asian self.” I joined the Asian Student Association. I chartered the first Asian-interest sorority in the District of Columbia. And yet, what I realized during my final semester of undergrad is that Asian Americans represent a multiplicity of experiences. Rather we’re part of a broader constellation of histories woven together as a result of a legacy of anti-Asian sentiment in the US, American imperialism, and Asian American activism.
As I witness generations of adoptees coming together across space, place, and time on deterritorialized and asynchronous platforms (e.g. blogs and Facebook) as well as through synchronous medium such as Twitter, I remain hopeful. Adoptees are seeing themselves part of a broader community. They are witnessing adult adoptee voices being centered and honored as legitimate experiences in adoption-related debates, research, and conversations.