the language of identity

I recently read a book called, “The Language of Flowers,” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. It is the heartbreaking, yet poignant story of a young woman who grows up in the foster care system. Until the age of 9, Victoria is shuffled from one family and group home to the next never quite meeting the “standards or expectations” of the adults in her life. Victoria’s social worker, jaded and quite unsympathetic, believes she is nothing more than a troublemaker. Victoria is hurt and traumatized and acts out the only way she knows how to after years of abuse and abandonment – through defiance. She mistrusts everyone around her and has great difficulty developing and maintaining relationships, that is, until she’s placed with Elizabeth. Victoria eventually learns to trust Elizabeth after a period of opposition that would send most of us over the edge and grows to share her passion for flowers. However, circumstances arise that threaten Victoria’s new found sense of security with Elizabeth. Out of desperation, Victoria engages in a dangerous ploy to win over Elizabeth’s undivided love and attention once and for all, which just invites havoc into her life again.

I was genuinely moved by the story of this young woman. Her struggles to maintain meaningful relationships and to be loved deeply resonated with me. She was imprisoned by her own self-loathing and inability to let others into her life. I totally get that. Yet, she had a special ability and desire to help others through the flowers she chose for them, having learned under Elizabeth’s careful tutorship the meaning of flowers.

For many years, I wrestled with identity. Like a lot of people in their 20’s, I had yet to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. This was compounded by all of the insecurities I tried to hide – the trauma of being raised in a culturally non-diverse environment, an Asian girl trying to fit in with a predominantly white group of peers and never ever quite feeling worthy enough. Feelings of inferiority, passivity, shyness, and an inability to communicate my feelings made it difficult to connect with others, not to mention to self. I was even called a wallflower by a church leader in a church that I attended, where leaders were praised for their loud personalities, but that’s a whole different story.

We lived in a predominantly white area, so naturally, I just wanted to be like everyone around me, white. It never occurred to me that being Asian was a positive thing. Having been teased at an early age about my outward appearance, I learned that Asian was not attractive or popular. It makes me sad looking back that I felt so unhappy and insecure. Unfortunately, my adoptive parents were not well attuned nor prepared to parent a child of a different race with gaping attachment wounds. They were also racist, especially my mother, and often make discriminatory remarks that made me feel extremely uncomfortable and angry.

It has taken a very long time to feel comfortable in my own skin. Probably the first significant event that helped occured after the birth of my daughter. I was 31 years old. Becoming a mom literally transformed me. It opened up my heart in a way I’d never experienced. I didn’t know then that the attachment wounds I experienced had never really healed and caused me to feel unsafe in relationships. My husband once told me that other women in our small church family group found it difficult to feel “close” to me, as though it were my fault. Of course, I felt like a terrible leader and was hurt by his comments. Having my daughter was safe. Being a mom was safe and gave me the opportunity to nurture, hold, rock, and comfort another being, something I had not experienced in my early years. There was an unconditional love and bond that connected me to my daughter, which expanded my heart. I began to “like” myself because I cherished being a mom. My daughter taught me to give love and to accept love. For once, I felt confident in my role as a mother.

Another such turning point occurred just recently. As many of you know, I reunited with my birthfamily in Taiwan at the beginning of the year and discovered that, after eons of believing that I was Japanese and Vietnamese (41 years to be exact), I’m actually Taiwanese. Many people ask me if I feel closure now that I’ve met my birthfamily. At first I thought this was such an odd question because it’s not an ending, far from it, but a beginning. From others’ perspective, it may appear like closure because I found connection to my cultural roots and birth family. I suppose it is closure, but in a different sense. I accept who I am unequivocally. There’s no mistaking that I’m Taiwanese and finally feel a sense of pride around my ethnicity. I have a renewed sense of identity. I’m still exploring this identity and what it means to be Taiwanese and American. I want to become more involved in the Taiwanese American community and greater Asian community in our area. I hope to take more trips to Taiwan and hope to help somehow in the intercountry adoption community. My identity is a work in progress. At times, it’s been a painful process, but nonetheless, one that has taught me self-preservation, resilience, compassion, and self-worth.

8 thoughts on “the language of identity

  1. Molly W.

    I’ve been following this blog for some time but I can’t figure out how to contact you privately. I am hoping you can help me get in touch with Tien — perhaps forward a message to her? She helped us adopt our daughter from Taiwan four years ago. We will be visiting Taipei this summer, and I would like to try to locate our daughter’s mother in Taiwan. I’d really appreciate any help you can offer in this regard.
    I enjoy your writing, and especially your honest and thoughtful discussion of what your feelings have been at various points in your life.


  2. Gillian

    Another wonderful reminder to adoptive parents to be aware of all these feelings that may not be expressed easily. Thanks so much for continuing to share your story!



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