Tag Archives: Naturalization

pieces of me

When I returned from Taiwan in January, I wanted to apply for Taiwanese citizenship. I still have my original baby passport issued when we moved from Okinawa to the States, and I was born in Taipei, so I figured it would be possible to re-apply.  I was excited about the idea of having dual citizenship and reclaiming a part of my Taiwanese heritage. It was suggested that I contact TECO (The Taiwanese Economic and Cultural Office). So, I called the TECO office in LA a couple weeks ago. The woman I spoke with first asked if I spoke Mandarin. Sadly, although I’m studying Mandarin, I’m not quite at the level yet to carry on a conversation about renewing my passport. She informed me that I needed to send for the family household document from my sister in Taiwan and asked me repeatedly if I still had my original passport. I assured her that I did. She was not rude in any way. I think she was just making sure that I really did have a passport issued from Taiwan. Upon receiving the household document, she asked that I contact her again to proceed.

Yesterday, I received the household document from my sister. Yea! I called TECO to find out what the next steps were. Again, the same woman asked if I spoke Mandarin then asked several times if my passport was issued in Taiwan or China. It took me a couple of minutes to convince her by reading my passport that indeed it was issued in Taiwan, not China.

And now the next stage is to complete the passport application form, which is available online thank goodness. After that, I will have to send the completed app signed by a notary republic, a copy of the household document, my baby passport, a copy of my current US passport, 2 photos for my new passport, a $50 check, and a return self-addressed envelope to TECO. I’m so grateful my mom kept my passport despite the fact that she never revealed that I had one, nor that she still had it in her possession, and that I found it. My mom did however keep newspaper clippings of my U.S. naturalization ceremony and my naturalization certificate, another important document since I don’t have an original birth certificate. Today I went to download the passport application form. I clicked on the link and there was there form – in Mandarin. I didn’t see any link leading to an English language form, so I called the woman back to see if there was one. Unfortunately, there is not, so I will enlist the help of my Mandarin tutor, or an acquaintance of ours who is Taiwanese. More incentive for me to study my Mandarin harder!

Just before hanging up, I asked the woman if I was still a Taiwanese citizen, even though my sister told me weeks ago that I was. I just wanted reassurance that it was true. “Yes, you are still citizen – don’t worry,” was her reply. I felt relieved, pleased, thrilled. Really, I always had been a national but didn’t know it. Why am I so pleased? After 40 something years of rejecting my birth heritage, I feel more and more drawn to it. I can’t say that every transracially adopted person will feel the same way, but for me it’s been an awakening. It comes as a bit of a surprise even to me that I’m heading in this direction, but it feels right. Little pieces of my identity are coming together. It’s been shown that the identity piece for transracial adoptees is typically a complex one and that reuniting with one’s birth family, or even connecting with one’s birth culture helps adoptees feel more “whole.” For me, I was already beginning to arrive at a sense of wholeness before meeting my biological family. I think life experience and having my own family has been part of that process. Meeting my sisters and birth family brought joy. Yes, also a sense of completeness in that my search for them culminated in our reunion. I connected with my birth culture in the most profound way, and I learned more about my birth parents and why I was placed for adoption. But there were many factors that came in waves over the years that helped me develop that sense of wholeness. Am I there yet? I think like anyone, whether transracially adopted or not, we all go through so many different stages during our lives. Accepting that I’m Taiwanese has been like taking one step forward, two steps back, three steps forward and so forth, because it’s been a long road full of surprises, denial, questioning, searching, and finally acceptance. Being adopted is part of who I am and always will be. Finding my birth family and owning my Taiwanese citizenship is another leg in the journey – a really significant one.

false identity

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.