Imagine your whole life believing that you are one thing and then learning in mid-life that you are not what you have always believed you were. Let me explain. When I was four months old, I was adopted by a white American family from an orphanage in Taipei, Taiwan. My dad was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, and he and my mom were stationed in Okinawa at the time I was adopted. My parents provided very little information about my adoption, and I knew nothing about my birth family or birth culture. I always believed that I was Vietnamese and Japanese. That is what they told me, that is what I believed. I had no reason to question what I’d been told. After my mom passed away in 2008, however, I made a discovery about my adoption that in one instant changed everything I ever knew.
My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which slowly progressed across several years. Before she passed away, my half-sister began rummaging through our parents’ attic in an attempt to get rid of junk. There were tons of boxes stored, and none of us had a single clue what was inside them. As it turned out, one box in particular contained some very surprising things. After mom’s funeral, my sister and I began to sort through each box. There we were, in the tiny dining room of my parents’ home where I’d sat a million times with my family for breakfast and dinner, removing yellowed tape from boxes and rummaging through what was inside. Some contained interesting artifacts from my dad’s service in the military. He in the United States Army Air Force, a co-pilot of a B-24 in World War II. These little treasures are very meaningful to me now, old photos from my dad‘s youth, flight records, clues to his military past, which I knew so little about.
We rummaged and rummaged. Then, I stumbled upon one box where, lo and behold, I found the original contract of my adoption plus other items related to my adoption that my mom stowed away and never told me about. I knew something of my past had to exist somewhere, but never had any motivation or reason to search up in the attic, of all places. I used to think that monsters and scary things lived in the attic, for pete’s sake. The most curious thing of all was a picture of my mom holding me in her lap in what appeared to be the orphanage where I was placed for adoption, though I can’t be certain. She is no longer here to answer the many questions about my adoption that are exponentially growing in number as I write this. A small baby bed, its railings rusted with peeling paint, is situated just behind us. I found safety pins that probably held together my cloth diapers and baby shower cards, congratulating my mom on her “new addition to the family.” I was stunned, yet excited about these curious new finds and that I’d finally found some tangible link to my mysterious adoption. At the same time I felt a little sad that my parents never shared these things with me. Why not? Why hide my early beginnings? Secrets are always made to be known at some point and usually with devastating consequences.
At the beginning of this year I went back to Bossier City, Louisiana, to salvage what I could from my parents’ home. It all seemed so surreal knowing that this would be my last visit to the house I grew up in before it is put on the market. I shipped back home tons of old pictures, an antique grandfather clock that has been in Mom’s family forever, LP’s of Glen Miller music, and several of Dad’s military awards, plaques, and old service records. So many memories came flooding back as I unpacked all the boxes and unwrapped each little item, childhood memories, days gone by. It saddens me that neither of my adoptive parents are here anymore. We’ll never get the chance to clear things up about my adoption. It’s up to me now to figure it out. But really, that has been the theme of my life – left to figure things out on my own, alone.
Since coming back home to Arizona, I’ve thought more and more about my adoption and decided to begin a search for my birth family. I sent my adoption contract to an adoption agency specializing in adoptions from Taiwan to American families. Surprisingly, I learned from one of the caseworkers that my birth parents were not Vietnamese and Japanese, but very possibly Taiwanese. Could I be Taiwanese? It would make sense, after all, because I was adopted from Taipei. For years I have explained to people that I was born in Taiwan, but am really Japanese and Vietnamese, adopted by white parents. I had to further explain why I had a southern accent. The script…the script became second nature, yet incredibly annoying at the same time. The fact that I didn’t exactly look like either of my parents raised question upon question and elicited unwelcome stares, especially having lived in a predominantly white area. It will be so much easier now to just tell people that I’m Taiwanese and not feel obligated to share more, not that I am really obligated in the first place. It’s just when you grow up in an area where you don’t look like your parents or anybody else, people ask questions. And not just one question…
I’m not sure how the search for my birth family will go. Chances are that neither of my birth parents are still living. My birth mother was 39 and birth father, 55 when I was born. Still puzzling to me is why my mom told me that I was Japanese and Vietnamese. Did the translation get mixed up, or was it all fabricated? It’s hard for me to believe that my parents would purposely lie to me. But, there is that…Perhaps it will always remain a mystery.
Discovering things I never knew about my adoption and digging into my past has led to an awakening, a burning curiosity to know and understand my cultural heritage, which I vehemently rejected growing up. Why would I want to look Asian in a world filled with white people? It was all I could do to put Sun In in my hair and curl my straight eyelashes. I am now more curious than ever about my birth family. Do I look like any of them, does anyone else in my birth family have an affinity for music? Are there any health issues to be concerned about, was it difficult for my birth parents to relinquish me, did they ever want to see me? Hell, I’d never even heard of the term, “birth family,” until, well recently. Although I may never find out anything other than what’s preserved on my adoption contract, I hope that won’t be the case.
- Another blogger’s thoughts on international adoption and reunion (pushingonarope.com)
- Opening Up Adoptions (lawprofessors.typepad.com)
- The Post All Adoptive Parents Need to Read (blogher.com)
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Do the words Family Planning Association of China, Taipei City mean anything to you?
I was adopted at the age of 3 via that organisation, but unlike you got delivered to London, Heathrow in the summer of 1970.
The thought of going back to recover the lost, forgotten roots of my beginnings has been with me for a very long time.
My latest idea is to take a beginners course in Mandarin. I never managed to hold on to my chinese, as I’m sure you can appreciate, due to the necessity of having to learn English as quickly as possible.
I never actually added anything to my blog here, since I didn’t really know what to write, but I joined anyhow. (I am at Facebook though, so if you’re further interested in exchanging stories I am always contactable there)
Thank you so much for your response! I was also adopted through Family Planning Association of China! I would love to exchange stories with you. I have had a growing preoccupation with trying to discover my roots back in Taiwan but seem to have hit a road block. I’m not sure now where exactly to go. I have also considered learning Mandarin and traveling to Taiwan. I very much look forward to talking with you!
I adopted my son from Taiwan in 2006. I was born and raised in Taiwan, so I am bilingual. We travel back to Taiwan every year and are schedule to fly back on Saturday.
Regarding your search, there are a couple of ways that you can try to locate your biological families. The most effeceint way is through the police station and a “good” Household registra office if you have the original adoption documents (in Chinese will be the best.) Another way is through news media report. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you need someone to bounce ideas off.
Thanks for your comments! It’s nice to connect with you, and I appreciate your advice on the best way to search for my bio sister. I’d love to get in touch with you to talk about Taiwan. I’m hoping to get to the household registration office, hopefully the right one. I do have my original adoption contract and baby passport. It was once suggested to me to contact a local newspaper to search. Haven’t taken that approach because I’d hoped to hear from the agency in Taiwan since they were able to locate what appears to be one of my bio sister’s addresses. We’ll see what unfolds. Still waiting.
Again, thanks for contacting me!
How wonderful! I can’t wait to read about your journey as it unfolds.
Enjoyed your first blog! Great story you have to tell and I look forward to following your blog. Keep it Coming!
Fantastic first entry! I am very much looking forward to following your journey! Your parents showed a love for you that I did not understand at the time. You were very, very lucky to have had the wonderful parents that you had.
Hi. Yes, you do have your blog set up so we can leave comments. I left original comments on the blog page of MWAM.
I am so glad you are blogging and sharing your story of discovering your history. I look forward to taking the journey with you.