A common conversation starter for college students is our diverse backgrounds. When people ask me about my cultural heritage, my conversations goes something like this:
“I was adopted from China.”
“You were adopted? That’s so cool! What is that like?”
This reaction never fails to amuse me. I don’t really see anything particularly cool about being adopted. That would be like me telling a non-adoptee, “Wow, you were born? That’s really cool, what’s that like?”
The origins of an adoptee and non-adoptee are more or less the same. None of us get to choose our starting lines, or the families that we are born into.
To me, being selected for adoption is like a “second birth.” I didn’t choose the adoptee life; my family quite literally chose me.
Although I stand behind the same starting line as everyone else, I can tell you that my journey isn’t the same. And it is only fitting I share my story with you now, as November is National Adoption Month.
Growing up, I was lucky enough to never have to see color. Having a diverse group of friends was normal for me, and I was never aware of any negative or complicated implications regarding race toward me or anyone else I knew.
I never felt different because my family is white. Everyone I went to school with knew I was adopted, but I never felt ostracized or discriminated against because of it.
It wasn’t until I went back to China to adopt my little sister, who is not biologically related to me, that I started to notice and view the world in its true, complex spectrum of colors.
The people in China would look on with interest or confusion as they saw a Chinese boy joyfully and casually walking alongside two white people. It was because I was a foreigner, since it felt more like a vacation to me than some epiphany where I was returning to the motherland, “my home.”
I wasn’t really “Chinese” to feel a connection to my country other than birthright because my upbringing in America molded me into an Asian-American. The battle of my duality was further exacerbated when I went to a predominantly Asian and white high school.
I wasn’t “Asian” enough to perfectly fit in with the Asian crowd, and I was only white in culture, but not in color. Being an adoptee made me a different brand of Asian-American than my peers. I was on a balancing beam, and I could never fall to one side or the other. I would always be somewhere in between.
All I wanted was to relate to my Asian-American peers.
I longed to feel like I understood all the jokes about growing up Asian.
I remember I asked an Asian friend of mine to have her mom make me fried rice so I could know what an Asian childhood tasted like.
At that point, I actively tried to seek out people that looked like me.
I would go to lengths to befriend other Asians and try to dub them a surrogate family of sorts, even calling some of them “big sister” or some other familial title.
It was through them that I could feel some sort of artificial kinship and slightly satiate the curiosity of what it might have been like to have Asian siblings back in China.
Wondering about those “what if’s” does not consume me, but it persists now and then.
When I look in the mirror and try to piece together if I had my birth mother’s eyes or if the gray streaks that run through my hair are because of my birth father, I’ll never know.
It is bittersweet knowing the closest thing I have to knowing anything about my birth parents is myself, but I am not making it a lifelong mission to find them, and I’ve accepted the fact I may never get answers to questions I have.
One rewarding thing about being adopted is finding other adoptees. We often become quick kindred spirits with one another. They are a rare coalition of people that can fundamentally understand me in ways nobody else can.
But it doesn’t always take an adoptee or adoptee family to understand the notion of unconditional love.
One of my biggest role models and a “big sister,” Riyanka, gave me a surprise t-shirt as a gift before she graduated high school. The shirt read that “family is more than blood.”
I am a living embodiment of this quote. Blood is something that can be diluted, but love can’t. That is where family stems from — an unconditional love and acceptance from the people that happen to enter your life.
I am fortunate enough to know that love in limitless capacity.
To my adoptee family: mom, dad, Ty, Meg, Mark and Lola, I love you all and am thankful for each of you. This is something I never express enough.
To my birth parents who have made the biggest sacrifice of not getting to watch your child grow up: I carry the burden of not ever being able to thank you or tell you that I am living a happy life.
To anyone I have ever called “family:” know that I love you too, and you have also played a part in my understanding of who I am.
When people ask me where my home is, I respond with home is wherever my precious people are. Being adopted, I don’t place much value in one geographical location; rather, I find home with the people that love me.