The hardest part was that my family did not know the feeling I had. I could have explained it to them but they would never really understand how I felt. For the longest time, I would hide my feelings. I would cry to my mom and dad about something that was bothering me, but I would also make up a different reason as to why I felt that way.
I did not want to share my true feelings. But here they are now, trying to help me.
Still, growing up, I was embarrassed. Not of my family, but embarrassed that I looked different. I was hurt by the words my classmates would call me.
I was not sure how to process the feelings and emotions, so I would act out in a negative way. Whether I threw a tantrum or tried to pick a fight with my mom or dad, I was going to let these emotions out.
My heart and throat hurt from holding back tears from the pain that I was feeling. I had no one that I could connect with and help validate my feelings. I was alone.
There was a place where I found I could be myself, and that was at WACAP’s Family Camp, which I still go to today. My family started going when I was four years old. It was a place our family could be and where no one would question or make assumptions about our relationship. No one would say, “You can’t be sisters” or “They aren’t your real parents” because our family was a normal family at camp.
As I grew older, my friends from those summers and I would talk about different racial issues going on in our lives. We were able to explain our feelings to people that would understand. The bonds are strong. Most of these friends are doing other things these days and they don’t go to camp anymore, but we stay in touch.
Now that I am older and still attend camp, I try to talk with younger adoptees about their feelings and thoughts. I also speak with parents who want me to hear their stories and to hear “the other side” – their perspective as adoptive parents. They want my input and advice. I love every moment about this WACAP weekend away.
Though I still carried the burden of the hurtful names I’d been called and replayed questions about where I belonged, finding other kids who understood that was such a support. I often wonder if my parents could have helped with my racial and identity issues. At the same time, I would keep things from them on purpose. Plus, I’d be less likely to share anything at all, if I felt distant or not able to be heard.
What I really enjoyed was when I would be able to have mother-daughter dates and daddy daughter daddy-daughter dates. During times like that, I was one-on-one with a parent and able to talk about anything and everything. I loved that I was going to be able to grab lunch or dinner with one of them and have a parent’s full and undivided attention. When we had this kind of time together, I felt far more comfortable explaining the emotions I had.
In offering advice to adoptive families on talking to their kids about belonging, race, and questions they’re facing, I’ll admit that it’s hard to say what would have helped me most, and what wouldn’t have. It’s also hard to say just what will best support kids who grow up with challenges like I had, since everyone is different. I can say, though, that I wish my parents had talked with me more about the situations that arose. By this I mean, I wish we had talked about the times when we were out in public and someone would treat me differently. Maybe if we had talked about my feelings at moments like that, I would have been a bit more open about talking with them about my feelings.
As I wrestled with my identity and the sting of being treated differently, I even struggled with being Indian. I did not want to call myself Indian. And I felt very uncomfortable as I started to get older when I was around groups of Indians. For instance in high school, I had a couple Indian friends, and one night went with them to a party that was predominately attended by Indians.
I felt out of place.
I’d been asked from childhood by other kids why my family was white, but not me. That evening, surrounded by many who shared a similar skin tone and my country of birth, I felt like everyone was staring at me and that I did not belong.
With the support of my friends, and after being introduced to some of the teens in the group, I became more comfortable; and I’ve learned that with introductions, I’m much more at ease. Still, years later, I do not arrive at that feeling of ease and belonging if I am in a crowd where I don’t know anyone, or if I do not have a safe person with me.
Adding to my discomfort with being Indian were some of the one-on-one interactions I experienced. There were times that I would give my ID at a local gas station or store staffed by an Indian clerk, who would then ask about my middle name. When they asked, they’d want to know where I was from and would start to talk to me in Hindi or Punjabi. Not understanding what they were saying, I’d explain that I was adopted and did not know the language. The looks I would receive in response were shocking to me.
I started to hate that I was Indian, for these reasons.
Time has passed a little since, and today I have finally started to be okay with my ethnicity. It “has taken me a minute” getting to here, and still I have my moments, trust me. One such moment I am now struggling with is the concept of going back to India. I have arrived at the point where I believe I need to face this fear. Going to India, however, is one of the scariest things I have ever thought about. This would involve me going to see where I would have lived if I hadn’t been adopted. Thinking about it, the emotions and feelings I have make me sick … but I am ready at the same time.
What has brought me to where I am now, to feeling more ready for something like that? It’s another question of my own.
It’s been years since those elementary school questions I first faced as a child. I am now an adult, embarking on the newest chapter of my life in the southwestern part of the U.S. It is back to the beginning for me with people I meet. They have no clue about my adoption unless I tell them. But different than I was in my teenage years, I have noticed that I am more open about my adoption the older I get.
In my own way, I am also now inviting people to ask me about who I am. I have a tattoo on my back that says Baisakhi, in Hindi lettering, which is my Indian name. I wear a lot of shirts that show this tattoo, which means I have lots of people ask about it. This is when I start to talk about my adoption. Also, because I have new friends who have never seen my family, when it does come up that I am adopted, many admit to being “kind of thrown off,” having assumed my family was Indian when I talked about them. People ask questions, and I am able to answer them honestly. (A big change from not sharing about my adoption until my friends knocked on my family’s door.)
I realize I’ve definitely had more time to think about my adoption after moving from the place I grew up. Now that I’ve moved out of the house and away from home, I do not see my family often. However, my sister lives in my new home state, too, and when we go out together we still commonly hear from others, “Oh my goodness; you two are sisters?” I have come to the conclusion this will not get old. Recognizing this makes me feel great! I have reached a point where I am, and can now be, very open about my feelings regarding my adoption.
In writing more of my story, too, I have also realized all the more, the hardships that I have been through in coming to this point. I have learned about myself, about support systems, and the need for them. Along the way, I’ve engaged in important conversations with my family, and talked with other adoptive families about difficult questions. Those hurtful questions that sometimes get asked by others, and the ones we ask ourselves that hurt, too. I’ve listened to others.
It’s with some difficult moments, and without all questions answered, that I’ve listened to myself, and still found my way to here. I’m mindful of the fears ahead that I’ll face, but I find myself able to say something I once couldn’t:
I love every bit of who I am. I am proud to be East Indian and I am excited to plan a trip home to India. (Wow; I cannot believe I said home.)
Part II of Essay by WACAP Adoptee Emily Seaborg, “On Race and Identity”
Passionate about supporting adoptive families, Emily Seaborg, WACAP volunteer and adoptee, is currently pursuing her Master’s in Social Work. A long-time participant of WACAP’s family camp, she returns each year for what she calls the “best” weekend: “This is where I connect. This is where I can explain how I feel with others who know what it is like. These people do not judge, and I can share my experiences with others!” As a mentor for adoptees who need a listening ear, Emily also offers a voice of perspective for their parents, helping to bring families closer through understanding and empathy.