Tag Archives: Adoption

on transracial adoption

The following is a guest post by blogger, Nikki. Nikki is a transracial adoptee, born in the U.S. to Korean immigrant parents and adopted by white parents. She is a contributor to Somebody’s Child, a book of essays about adoption. This post was originally posted at A Small Song. Nikki also blogs at Irene’s Daughters. The article below is in response to an NPR review of the new film, “Somewhere Between,” a documentary following four teenaged girls adopted from China and now living in the United States. Many things in Nikki’s article deeply resonated with me, and I wanted to share it with all of you in hopes that it will provide some insight from the perspective of adoptees.

Cross-posted at Irene’s Daughters and Are Women Human?

Sometimes I kind of find myself wishing that adoptive parents would stop writing about adoption. Particularly if the subject is transracial adoption.

I realize that probably sounds a bit harsh. It’s not that an adoptive parent cannot have plenty of good, worthwhile things to say about adoption. But there is SO MUCH of THIS out there. And this, an NPR review of a new documentary about adopted Chinese-born teens, Somewhere Between:

…all four girls are thoughtful, moving and imaginative on the subject of their split identities. Haley thinks of herself as a “banana,” yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Describing herself as “stuck between two countries,” Fang laments that she’s always trying to compensate for the fact that she was abandoned because she’s a girl.

Watching the tears roll down Fang’s otherwise cheerful face, I wondered whether she’d be this sad if she wasn’t facing a camera. On the plus side, Somewhere Between is refreshingly free of the cloying, one-size-fits-all dogma that sometimes bedevils the adoption community. (I parted company with my chosen adoption listserv when I got tired of hearing about “the holes in all our daughters’ hearts.”)

Inevitably, though, the film makes it seem that these girls’ lives are dominated by worry about who they are and whether they’ll be emotionally crippled by conflicting allegiances. Adopted or not, few of us develop our identities in the abstract — least of all today’s adolescents, who try out their ever-shifting multiple selves with their friends in every social medium, and are far more nonchalant about racial difference, let alone adoption, than we boomers can ever be.

Oh, yes, because being “nonchalant about racial difference” should be the gold standard to which we all aspire. And why is Fang so sad? It’s awfully telling that journalist/adoptive mom Emma Taylor confesses she can’t bring herself to stay on her adoption listserv because they talk too much about adoption loss and grief and all that downer stuff.

Notice how, in this “review” of a documentary featuring the voices of adopted teenaged women of color, Taylor just can’t help but make the whole thing about her own feelings and opinions? It’s not that I think every adoption-related story needs to be written by an adopted individual or birthparent. I know some wonderful adoptive parents, and their perspectives are important, too. But the traditional adoption narrative in this country is so completely dominated by adoptive parents as a group — THEIR experiences, THEIR emotions, what THEY believe to be “the truth” about their children’s adoptions. And that is especially problematic when you have white people clearly looking to take the easy way out and not think about race too hard. Could NPR not have found, oh, I don’t know, a Chinese adult adoptee to write about this film? There are a ton of them out there. I’m sure they’ve got opinions.

Emma Taylor, meanwhile, sees the film — and the young women featured in it — through the filter of her own form of white adoptive-parent magical thinking, and makes it all about her:

My Chinese teen was bat mitzvahed last year; she celebrates the Jewish, Chinese and any other New Year that comes with a party. On Facebook, she brands herself as “Jew Crew,” “Asian, so deal with it” and a Yankee Brit, among others. Accustomed to a polyglot world, she takes it mostly in stride.

Her only visible adoption crisis came when she was about 8, just after we’d watched the excellent movie Stuart Little, about a mouse adopted into a loving family who nonetheless has an “empty space” in his heart. A couple of hours later, my ordinarily sunny, unflappable child burst into tears and asked piteously why her mommy had let her go.

Caught off guard, I opted for honesty and told her it made absolutely no sense to me, and who wouldn’t want to be the mother of a great kid like her? After a moment, she asked for her drawing materials and drew three female figures with Chinese features (“You, me, and my other Mommy”), then said firmly, “Okay, let’s play something else.”

First of all, why was she “caught off guard” when her child brought this up? Why hadn’t they discussed it before? Why hadn’t they been discussing it all along?  I can’t even tell you how much it bothers me that Taylor is so obviously relieved and almost triumphant about the fact that she and her daughter have only had the one conversation about abandonment in her entire thirteen years. One conversation? ONE? Oh, good then, I guess you’re off the hook!

Often, adopted children talk about issues only if they feel safe doing so. Generally, adopted kids learn at a young age which adoption-related topics are “safe” in their adoptive families, and which are not. It is up to parents to create an environment in which everything is on the table. Adoptive parents can’t cringe and fluster or express zero empathy with placing birthparents or spout platitudes about how it all worked out great anyway, so there’s no reason to ever feel less than 100% positive about your adoption, honey. Adopted children need more than that. Because, at some time or another, and probably throughout their lives, they will feel more than that. Adoptive parents, like all parents, need to be able to admit when they aren’t enough.

I’m a parent, and I know how difficult it is to face the fact that you can’t meet your child’s every need every moment of the day. But I think it’s crucial to look ourselves squarely in the mirror, and really look at our children too, and see areas in which we may be ill-equipped or even totally helpless to fix a problem or answer a question or meet a deep-seated yearning. We can try, but it might not be enough. We can’t pretend to be their end-all and be-all, the answer to all their questions, the fulfillment of all their hopes, because their lives are not about us or filling some hole in our lives. At some point, they will need something we can’t provide. They might need to look elsewhere for it, and that doesn’t mean their bonds with us are any less important or strong.

I feel this point is often lost on adoptive parents, especially those who have waited a long time to become parents. They want so much to feel like the “real parents” and meet all comers, but there are things some adopted children face — such as not knowing anything about their family history; or being Asian but feeling/being treated as white — that adoptive parents cannot fix. And instead of facing that fact straight on and asking what they can do to walk alongside their children, even if they can’t take away a particular burden, they instead deny that it exists (italics are mine).

Taylor ends her “review” by expressing gratitude for the fact that her daughter is “lucky enough to live in a hybrid world,” and will, like the girls in the film, find a way “to make a virtue out of being somewhere between.” Never mind what her daughter might feel in the future, when she’s not eight or thirteen. Never mind if she doesn’t think of being “somewhere between” as a “virtue” all the time. She’ll just have to figure it out for herself. Her mother certainly considers the matter closed.

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.

a chance encounter

Carmen, her adoptive mom, Me, December 1967

Every once in awhile, I sift through the contents of the box that preserves my adoption papers. Recently, I came across something baffling: the papers of another little girl who was also adopted by a military family. Apparently, my parents knew the family in Okinawa. My father and the little girl’s father were both stationed at Kadena Air Force Base. The little girl’s name was Carmen. I vaguely remember hearing the name growing up, and in the recesses of my memory, recall an Asian girl who was older than me and very pretty. My mom put her school picture in a family photo album. I actually remember looking at her picture as a kid and wishing I looked more like her. Curiosity got the best of me, and soon, I found myself digging through the cramped quarters of our storage closet in search of that old photo album.

As I flipped through the pages of one particular album, two pictures caught my attention. I recognized myself – I couldn’t have been more than 2 years old – but who was the other little Asian girl and the white woman? There was no writing on the back of these photos, but something told me that the other little girl was Carmen and the woman in the picture was her adoptive mom. I speculated that my parents were Carmen’s godparents and that’s how her adoption papers ended up amidst my adoption stuff. Obviously, there was some connection.

Carmen, Scotty, Me. July, 1970.

I did more digging. I googled the name, “Carmen Marie Faulkenburg,” her “American” name. Her name appeared under mylife, which listed her location and age – 49, just a few years older than me. I was disappointed, however, that I couldn’t get any further information. I searched again and found a Scott Faulkenburg. I clicked on the Facebook link hoping to find info leading me to Carmen. What should I find as I scrolled through Scott’s Facebook friends but the name and picture of, “Carmen Faulkenburg Seitz,” Scott’s sister – an Asian woman! I knew it had to be her! I immediately emailed Scott explaining why I was contacting him in hopes he would respond and not think I was crazy. I’m happy to say that Scott contacted me four days ago letting me know that he passed my message on to Carmen!

That same evening, Carmen emailed me. Since then, we’ve talked on the phone twice trying to piece together the connection between our families and adoptions. Carmen has a southern drawl that reminds me so much of growing up in Louisiana. I laughed when Carmen told me that her brother  first announced, “I found your sister!” when initially forwarding my message to her. We may not be blood-relatives, but I certainly feel like I’ve found a long lost sister! I learned from Carmen that she was abandoned as a baby and left beside a set of railroad tracks in Taipei. She was taken in by a group of nuns at a Catholic organization, St. Benedict’s Home for Children, now a Catholic monastery. Carmen actually returned to Taiwan with her husband in 2008 and reconnected with the nun who signed her adoption contract. Carmen’s date of birth is unknown, but was presumed to be around 1962. She was adopted in 1965 by Clarence and Janice Marie Faulkenburg, just a year before my adoption. Carmen found out from her father that he and my father were close friends in Okinawa and made a verbal agreement stipulating my parents as Carmen’s godparents. My speculation was right! Carmen wrote, “from the stories that my dad told me about Colonel Buck, he was a very good man.”

The Faulkenburgs, July 1970

Later, I found an old letter addressed to the Faulkenburg’s from St. Benedict’s Home for Children. Why my parents had the letter, I’m not sure. Intrigued, I took the letter out and read it. It was written by a nun, Sister Glenore, O.S.B. (Order of St. Benedict). She was trying to confirm with the Faulkenburgs that my parents had finally adopted a child. My parents had evidently been on a waiting list of families hoping to adopt from St. Benedict’s, but found me first at The Family Planning Association of China. Sister Glenore thanked the Faulkenburgs, my parents and others who had contributed much needed necessities to the orphanage. After I found the letter, I remembered seeing other photos of an older Carmen in some of our family photo albums. Again, I started searching. Sure enough, I discovered pictures of Carmen, her younger brother, Scott, and her adoptive parents at our home on LaNell Street. Having matched faces with names, I now recognize the Faulkenburgs in an old black and white photo taken after my adoption. They are pictured with my sister, Lynn, my mom and I.

The Faulkenburgs on L, my sister, mom and me

It’s been exciting to connect with Carmen and to discover yet another little piece of my past. We are hoping to meet each other at the end of July when I’ll be traveling to Indiana, just across the border from Kentucky where Carmen lives. In the meantime, she is visiting her father in Indiana this weekend and, perhaps, will learn a little more about our adoptions. I’m thrilled that we have found each other and truly amazed that our paths have crossed once again, 40 something years later!


the eve of chinese lunar new year

As I look outside my hotel window, it’s a bit dreary and overcast, and there’s a light drizzle that seems to come and go at whim. No matter rain or shine, today marks a very special occasion for my family in Taiwan. It is the eve of the lunar Chinese New Year, and I will be reunited with my birthfamily this evening. I will meet my older brother, as well as an Uncle and his children, the spouses of my two sisters, and the children of my 2nd sister for the first time. It will be a momentous occasion, one to remember always. My elder sister made plans for this evening before I even arrived in Taiwan. I’m so happy that we will celebrate and welcome in the New Year together, and am so grateful for all that my two sisters have done for me since my arrival here in Taiwan.

It’s now 8:00 pm, and my sister rings to tell me that all are waiting downstairs for us. My heart makes a giant leap. First, she asks to come up to my room to deliver something special. She arrives bundled in her silver jacket and hat, umbrella in tow, and it’s obvious that it’s raining outdoors, as the special items she has brought show evidence of rain droplets. First, she hands me a gift from my brother, John. It’s specialty teas from Taiwan and next she hands me another gift filled with a bag of candies, apples, and jewelry significant to the New Year. The gifting never ends, and my family has been more than generous. This afternoon, I wrapped gifts for each of my 10 family members to present this evening. Small tokens from the U.S. and the state of Arizona. I hope that they like them, though I feel they are so insignificant compared to what I’ve received.  The special gift my elder sister gives me is remarkable. It’s a handmade stamp with my Chinese name. The stamp is quite beautiful; a deep, dark shade of red and at the top in the form of a dragon. The set includes a small, round beautiful blue and white porcelain container of red ink. It is so special, and I am deeply moved by the thoughtfulness and generosity of my sisters and family.

Elder sister with Mr. Fortune

We head downstairs to meet the rest of the family and to the restaurant. My brother, the eldest among the 4 of we siblings, tells me, “nice to meet you,” and shakes my hand. My sister introduces her two children, and I’m introduced to Uncle and my 2nd sister’s sister-n-law, my two sisters’ spouses, and my Uncle’s son and daughter. They are all so welcoming. I tell each, “nice to meet you,” and immediately wish that I knew more Mandarin. We stop to take pictures, including pictures with Mr. Fortune who is dressed in full costume. After 45 years, we are finally reunited. I am overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude, happiness, and joy.

We head into the dining room. The spirit of festivity and celebration is in the air. There are many other families gathered together. I hand out the gifts I’ve brought from home to each member, or couple, in my family. Soon, one course after another is brought out, and by the end of our dinner, I’m stuffed. Many toasts are given to the elders at the table, and “welcome home, Marijane” is also toasted several times. I am moved when my Uncle, now the eldest in our family, comes to sit next to me. I try my best to understand what he’s saying and understand the significance of his gesture to speak with me as the brother of my biological father. He tells me that he doesn’t know what his brother would say now that I’m come back, “he’s not here.” As he continues to speak, Uncle’s eyes appear to be watering, although I can’t be sure. It seems as though he is on the verge of tears, his voice and lips trembling. Later, my elder sister confirms that he was quite emotional and that he is a very kind-hearted and gentle man. His beautiful wife died after only 6 years of marriage, and he was left to care for his two children on his own. Uncle says that he wishes to give me something, that I’m part of the Huang family and asks if I’ll accept it. My Uncle then hands me a red envelope. I’m again overwhelmed with gratitude for my family and their great generosity towards me. I give him a big hug and thank him. I truly feel at a loss for words.

My 2nd sister’s sister-n-law, L and Uncle on R

My birthfamily

As the evening continues, there is much lively conversation, more toasts, and I feel like this is the most amazing homecoming. I want so much to honor those in my birthfamily as they have honored me. I vow that next time I visit, my Mandarin will be much more up to par. As the evening comes to a close, I’m elated that we had this time together. I didn’t take as many pictures as I wanted, as I was so caught up in the moment. However, my sister will send more to me – her husband took numerous photos throughout the evening. I am so grateful that my family has welcomed me home. I never in a million years dreamed of such an occasion. It’s almost more than I can bear to have to leave by the end of the week. For now, I will enjoy this time with them. May there be many more celebrations in our future.

getting ready for taiwan

Wow, there’s a lot of noise in my head right now! As I attempt to de-stress from what seemed like an extraordinarily long day at work, a list a mile long of things I’d like to get done before traveling to Taiwan seems daunting. First there’s the packing. I’ve always hated packing and typically wait until the last possible minute to throw stuff into my suitcase. This trip takes a little more planning, however. My eldest sister in Taiwan emailed me and informed me that a cold front is to be expected and to bring gloves,  scarf, heavy coat, etc. I’ve looked at the weather forecast and it looks like rain as well, so I’ll toss in an umbrella. Then there’s the laundry to do so that I actually have stuff to throw, I mean pack neatly, into my suitcase. I’ve also been on the hunt looking for things “Arizonian” to bring to my family in Taiwan. After work, I stopped by the farmer’s market near our house. I love the farmer’s market and always enjoy the live music, which makes looking at all the vendors’ exhibits so much more festive. The 35-foot tumbleweed Christmas tree in the center of downtown and giant snowflakes strewn between the street lights are still on display. It reminds me that it was just Christmas Eve that I learned that we’d found my birth family.

Then there’s the mom in me that worries about my daughter and how she’ll fair while I’m gone. Having a teenage daughter is always an adventure, and I’m wondering how my husband will handle the responsibility of playing “taxi cab” in my absence. I’ll hope that he has lots of patience. Lots. Every once in a while, a wave of panic hits as I realize that I’ll be away for two weeks out of the country. I think the longest I’ve been away from my family is ten days. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled beyond words that I’m meeting my birth family in just three days! It’s a dream finally realized, and I’m so excited about the plans my sister has already made for us, for the whole family. I just tend to be a worry wart.

Despite all of my little worries, I know that going to Taiwan to meet my birth family is going to be an amazing, life-changing event. I look back at my life and never dreamed that a trip like this was possible. For so long, I lived my life without giving thought to the mother and father who relinquished me, the country I was born in, the culture I never knew. When my adoptive mom passed away and I found my adoption papers, I knew I had to find my birth family. I have so many questions, and there are so many mistruths told to me by my adoptive mother that I must figure out.

So, I will finish some more laundry tonight and try to get to bed early for a change. The excitement of my trip and everything else has kept me up too late. Packing can wait a little while longer. The day I leave for Taiwan will be here soon, two more days to be exact. Imagine that.

christmas miracle

It’s Christmas Eve. We have guests staying with us from out of town, and this evening we have a houseful of friends and kids over for dinner. The day has been full of catching up with old friends and running around here and there. Now, our kitchen is a buzz of conversation and laughter as everyone mingles together and loads their plates full of holiday fixings. In all honesty, I begin to feel a little overwhelmed by the houseful of people and noise and decide to steal upstairs for a few minutes of quiet. I log onto my computer to check my emails. Earlier today, I sent Tien an email to wish her a merry Christmas. Tien has been helping me with the search for my birth family. I’m happy to find an email from her in return. Her email begins, I have the greatest Christmas gift for you. As I continue reading, she tells me she has received an email from my oldest sister in Taiwan! I can hardly believe it! “You have two older sisters and one older brother,” Tien tells me. She has corresponded with my sister and has told her that we’ll be in Taipei in January. Tien includes my sister’s email response to her. She tells Tien that she just received letters from the Household Registration Office today learning of my search for her and my other siblings. She writes,

“To my greatest pleasure that my youngest sister(黃筱玲) is now very well in USA. and she will visit Taiwan early next year.

Though we family members missed for almost half century, like a broken kite line. Thank God, we finally find each other in our life time. Isn’t it a miracle?”

I’m in tears and cannot believe that we have found my sister! She mentions that she will tell my brother and other sister about me and my trip to Taiwan. From her email, it appears that she speaks and writes in English, unless Tien translated her email, but I don’t think so. I run downstairs to share the news with our friends and my own family. I’m so happy that my sister wants to meet me! They remember me! I feel the same way she does, thank God that we have finally found each other in our life time. It is truly a miracle.

Without Tien’s help, none of this would be possible. She wasn’t kidding when she said she had a great Christmas gift. Tien has been a miracle worker, and God has truly answered my prayers. I thank all of you who have also sent up prayers!

I send my sister an email back directly, as she included her email and home and hand phone numbers. I wonder how I should begin, how to introduce myself. Finally I just begin by telling her, “I’m your youngest sister” and that Tien has sent word to me that she’s contacted her. I tell her a little bit about myself and family and how happy I am that she wants to reunite. I hope that my email sounds okay and appropriate.

My sister ends her email to Tien with this,

“…And I think we all are happy for the greatest gift of God, our reunion” and sent Christmas wishes to us all. It is the greatest gift of God to have the opportunity to finally reunite with my birth family. I’m still soaking in the news, full of anticipation. I will be able to meet them soon. I’m amazed at how everything is falling into place. Our goal to contact my sister before leaving for Taiwan has happened! Though I was prepared to go to Taiwan with no news about my birthfamily, as I bought my airline ticket blindly, I’m grateful that it did not come to that. It’s nothing short of a Christmas miracle.