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 birthfamily 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 there, and none of us had a clue what was inside them. As it turned out, one of them contained some very surprising things. After mom’s funeral, I began to sort through each box. Some contained remnants of my dad’s military stuff from World War II, things that are very meaningful to me now, like old photos from his youth, flight records, clues to his military past which I knew so little about. Then in one box I stumbled upon the original contract of my adoption plus other items 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 to search up in the attic, of all places. 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, although I can’t be certain. 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 and excited about these 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.
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 sold. I shipped back home tons of old pictures, an antique grandfather clock that’s 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. 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’s been the theme in 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 birthfamily. I sent my adoption contract to an adoption agency specializing in placing children from Taiwan with American families. Surprisingly, I learned from one of the caseworkers that my birth parents were not Vietnamese and Japanese, but very possibly Taiwan. Could I be Taiwanese? It would make sense since I was adopted in 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 fact that I didn’t exactly look like either of my parents also raised question upon question and elicited 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 give them the whole back story.
I’m not sure how the search for my birthfamily 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. 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 desire to understand my cultural heritage. I am more curious now than ever before 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? Questions that adoptees tend to ask themselves. 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)