I don’t recall the exact moment I knew I was adopted. My parents must have told me at a very young age because I just always knew. They often told me that I was “chosen,” and mom occasionally retold the story of how they found me. Consequently, I came to feel “special,” but later special didn’t feel so special. Usually my mom ended up in tears, and I would try my best not to cry in front of her. Like anyone else’s parents, my mom and dad were my mom and dad. We had the same kind of relationship that other kids had with their parents. It didn’t matter that I looked different from them. As I grew up, however, my adoptive parents were completely unaware of the racial teasing that I experienced, the fear, the sense of inferiority that developed. I kept it to myself, and they never asked.
According to my mom’s story, I was the eleventh, give or take a few, child born to my birthparents; they gave all the girls up for adoption. How accurate this is, I’m not sure. My birthfather was supposedly Japanese and mother, Vietnamese. My parents attempted to find one of my biological sisters to adopt as well, but were unsuccessful in finding her. After my mom’s death in 2008, I found the original contract of my adoption, as well as many other documents, notes, receipts, etc. Everything had been carefully preserved and hidden away in a storage box up in my parent’s attic. I found one note of a list of orphanages scribbled on pieces of tablet paper; the writing appeared to be in Mandarin, but had English translations. Were these the orphanages my parents visited to look for my sister, or maybe even for me? I’ve often wondered how they found the Family Planning Association of China, the orphanage where they found me. The orphanage no longer exists today.
We traveled back to Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa where my dad was stationed after my adoption. It would take another seven months for the petition for my visa to be approved (through the Tokyo, Japan Immigration and Naturalization Service). When my parents attended their appointment at the American Embassy to file for the petition, they were disappointed to learn that additional documentation was required attesting to “the abandoned status of their adopted daughter,” meaning a letter from the adoption agency was needed. My parents contacted the Secretary General of the Family Planning Association, Mrs. Tze-kuan Shu Kan, to write the letter. In addition to this information, I found some interesting letters to my parents from a caseworker, Rose-Marie, reassuring them that the necessary paperwork was being properly notarized and that there would be “no further trouble.” I also found the letter that Mrs. Kan eventually wrote to confirm the status of my abandonment; however, only half of it is legible. Part of the document is damaged, to my great disappointment. This was frustrating, as I was hoping to learn more about my adoption and birthfamily. What I did make out basically stated that I was abandoned at the age of 1 month, 9 days and placed in their orphanage. I’m almost positive that there was more explaining why my birthparents gave me up for adoption though. On July 7, 1967, my parents finally received approval on their petition for the visa. This enabled them to file a formal visa application, which required even more paperwork. A small note with scribbled handwriting listed all the items mom needed for the visa application: 6 photographs, 4 copies of adoption paper, 6 copies of household registration of the child, passport, medical exam and vaccinations, etc.
When I first found my adoption contract, I thought I’d made the discovery of a lifetime. What has intrigued me since examining the contract is that some of my mom’s story is contrary to the content of the contract. Mom never alluded to this document, and once when I asked to see my adoption papers, she freaked out and became suspicious. I have no idea why, except that perhaps she was afraid I’d want to find my birthfamily, which I never had any desire to do. It was all very weird. The adoption contract revealed the names of my birthparents. My birthmother’s name was Shiow-Jean Lu and birthfather’s, Chan-Huai Huang. My birth name was Hsiao-ling Huang (pronounced Shou-ling, like cow). My parents kept my birth name as my middle name but changed the spelling to Chaling. I’m speculating that during the translation of the contract, someone wrote out phonetically how to pronounce my birth name, or maybe my parents did it, and that’s how “Chaling” came to be. Or perhaps they simply ‘Americanized’ my given birth name. What really puzzles me is the fact that my birthparents names’ are not Japanese or Vietnamese, but Chinese. Could I be Chinese, or Taiwanese (I was born in Taiwan)? It’s such a mystery…
As my mom’s story goes, they knew that I was “the one” they wanted when I looked up at my mom and smiled at her. Apparently, my parents did not get to choose the baby they wanted, they were just given a baby. The process of cross-cultural adoptions in the U.S. is nothing like what my parents experienced. Adoptive parents go through a very lengthy process of completing a complicated mass of paperwork, the dossier, which can take months. Each country’s government has its own set of eligibility criteria, requirements, fees, etc. and there are also U.S. state and federal adoption laws. Then there’s interviews with adoptive parents, background checks, home visits… After all of that, adoptive parents begin to receive referrals based on their preferences. The whole process can take up to 2 or 3 years depending on which country the adoptive parents are seeking the adoption. My parents adopted me in a matter of days. Of course, they were actually there in Taiwan and able to go to the orphanage and see the children available for adoption. On December 16, 1966, I became Marijane Chaling Buck, the daughter of Lt. Col. Wendell and Gloria Buck.
After finally receiving the visa in 1968, my dad received a transfer to the States. We moved to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts for a couple of years, then were transferred again to Barksdale AFB in Bossier City, Louisiana. It was in Shreveport on March 4, 1971, at the age of 4 years that I became a naturalized American citizen, along with 37 other people. I remember vaguely the naturalization ceremony, mostly feeling scared. The court room was filled with so many people, and when the judge picked me up to hold me for the news reporters, I started to cry.
We remained in Bossier City, Louisiana, throughout the rest of my childhood, and my parents continued to live there for the rest of their lives. They lived in the same house for 37 years. Obviously, finding my adoption contract has left me with a lot of questions. My parents are deceased, so it will be difficult to find the answers. After all of these years, I never thought that I’d be this curious about my past, but because my adoptive parents provided mistruths, perhaps lies, I’m perplexed and would really like to find some answers. I’m not sure if they’re out there or how to go about finding them, but I’m going to try.
Fascinating post. I just found your blog from Somewhere Between’s FB page. I wrote a post on luck and our daughter a few months ago. I’ve added a link to this post because it adds a beautiful contrast to what I wrote.
Great blog and writing.
Thank you, Jeremy! I look forward to reading your blog and the story of your daughter!
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Thank you for sharing! Your words are a blessing to this Mama! 🙂
Thank you for visiting my blog! I appreciate your comments!
Fantastic blog entry and what great discoveries! It feels special to take this journey with you and thank you for sharing it with us. By the way, your middle name (and given name) is beautiful….
Thank you, Beth! I’m truly sorry that the relationship with your parents was so painful. I know that must be extremely hurtful and very difficult to handle. Things were not always happy and bright in our household. I hope to write about that eventually. I had a rocky relationship with my mom for years. It was really challenging as a teenager. Right now I’m in the process of searching for my biological mom through an adoption agency in Oregon. The woman who’s helping me is on vacation in Taiwan right now! When she gets back, I we’ll be able to resume the search. It’s just in the beginning phase. I hope to learn if my biological mom is still living or not at least. I’m just going to keep writing about the memories I have. It’s been good to work through grief and regrets through writing. Thanks again!
You write so very well! I was totally capitivated until the last sentence. And you are indeed a very lucky girl! What an incredible gift of love you were given. I never felt like my parents wanted me at all. I cannot imagine having parents that wanted me that badly. I really can’t. So what do you intend to do next? Do you intend to look for your birth parents now? Just continue with your memories of your wonderful parents who raised you? I can’t wait to read more!
Carole Ann, thank you for your encouraging words. I have had it on my heart to share this story for awhile and am glad that now seems to be the time to let it unfold. I value your support and opinion!
Surely you know this is the beginning of your memoir just waiting for publication. I hope you will keep this in mind as you write and begin investigating your options for publication. Your story is a magical one, one that has special significance and resonates with the reader from the first sentence. The story of your being placed in an orphanage as a little girl, because of the the traditions of your country, are very difficult to read, especially so for me as a woman. Your story leaves us wanting to know more.
The pictures are very powerful. You, and the reader, are so fortunate to have these as witness to your story.