Hi, my name is Jade, and I am excited to be writing my first blog post! I know for this being my first time, I’ve chosen quite a heavy subject to talk about, but I want to share my experiences with transracial adoption and the ups and downs I have faced with my racial identity crisis. It wasn’t until a couple years ago, when I got to college, that I even became aware of this issue. And, after doing more research and self-reflecting on my growth and development, I have now come to realize how it has affected me and still does to this day.
Based on a study done by American Adoptions in 2017, transracial adoptions have increased by 50% in the last decade. This is a large demographic, and one that is continuously growing, which is why I believe it is so important that these topics be brought to light. Exposing these issues is only the first step to shifting the paradigm of our socio-cultural landscape and maybe, just maybe, instigating change.
But now, onto my story.
I was adopted from Guang Xi, China into a White family when I was 15 months old. Growing up, my parents never kept it a secret that I was adopted. In fact, I think they did a good job explaining to me what adoption meant, even at a young age. But even though I knew that I wasn’t White, in my childhood, there was never a time when I looked in the mirror and saw myself as anything but that. In elementary school, I was fortunate enough to not be singled out for my race. Sure, I was bullied like every other kid, but never because of my “Asian-ness”. And when I ran errands with my mom and dad or hung out with family friends, they treated me the same as everyone else. So, growing up, I never viewed myself as different.
I don’t think that realization came to me until I was around 9 years old. My family decided to adopt another child, my younger sister, also from China. I was able to visit my home country and experience what its people and culture were like. As fascinating as it was, I remember hating it. Maybe it was because of the 20-some people American tour group I was accompanied by or the obvious fact that I couldn’t speak Chinese, but the only feeling I had was detachment. Arriving back home, I remember complaining about how they treated us “Americans” to my parents. When my sister started to learn English, she would tell us countless stories about her life in China. Ironically for me, the more I heard about it, the more disinterested I got. China wasn’t a part of my identity, I was American.
In 8th grade, my family moved to a small town with a population of about 4,000 people which, broken down, consisted of about 3 (now 5) Asians, 10 Black people, and 3,985 White people. With a new city came a new school. My prior education situation was a very, very sheltered private Christian academy, totaling 150 students pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade. So, moving to a public school with 150 kids just in my grade, terrified me.
On my first day, I experienced racial bullying for one of the first times in my life. In this particular instance, I was walking down the hallway and a group of boys all White, but one Asian, came up behind me and yelled, “Hey, is this your brother?” and they continued on, laughing the whole time. I had no idea how to react and I was too quiet to speak up anyways, so I just walked faster to my class. Science has proven that when the brain experiences trauma, your body will create natural coping mechanisms to protect itself. For me, I never wanted to feel that kind of vulnerability and humiliation ever again. So naturally, I put up this barrier and disassociated myself from who I was and put my efforts into building this persona that was ultimately unaffected by what anyone had to say. My thought process: if I just consciously choose to turn all of the comments into empty words, then it doesn’t matter, and therefore, doesn’t affect me.
Transitioning to high school, I began to embody that persona entirely. People could really say anything, and I would just brush it off. “Squinty eyes!” Wow, how original. “Yellow!” Haha, not quite. “Chink!” Yup, that’s me. The list could go on.
College was where I began to realize how this defense mechanism was more damaging than helpful. Now, being immersed in a diverse environment and getting to connect and listen to people coming from all different backgrounds and cultures, I was starting to understand the importance of individuality. In the coming months, I regained interest in learning, not only about my culture, but myself. I started finding things I could appreciate as they related to me—strong, intelligent, charismatic, kind.
I am now a junior in college. In the last couple of years, I’ve become enthusiastic in continuing to learn, grow, and develop my understanding of diversity, race, inclusion, equality—and ultimately mend my relationship with myself. I have now discovered my value and how I deserve to be treated. I have learned that there is no limit to your identity as long as you get to choose it. In my case, I have come to recognize that I don’t have to choose to be just Asian or American. I can be both and get the opportunity to fuse those identities together to create a special and unique individual. However old or young you are, you’ve had an expansive number of experiences that have influenced your character, your personality, your passions. But I think one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that you yourself have to choose your key identities, because if you don’t, others might get the idea that they’re suddenly qualified to.
I think in my childhood, my friends and family were putting so much effort into not making me feel different, that I felt as if I was expected not to be. They neglected to nurture some of the most important characteristics that truly made me, me. And of course, I was too young to recognize these actions. But now that I’m older, I have educated myself on these issues, and if it weren’t for my past, I know that I would not be the person that I am now.
As I reflect on all of this, it truly amazes me how much I have learned and the growth I have experienced. It took me 6 years to recognize how much of a toll this barricade was having on my relationships, and myself. I honestly believe that one of humankind’s greatest paradoxes is how natural self-coping mechanisms can end up being more damaging in the long run. Naturally, we become dependent on our own body, leaving the job up to it to defend against trauma, humiliation, and hurt. But that’s not the path that leads to healing and acceptance. It is up to you to take action and find better remedies that actually make a difference, whether that be a trained specialist, or a family member, or friend.
One of the biggest realizations that I’ve made is that in my response to trauma, I was allowing and normalizing racial discrimination and degradation of myself, and potentially others. For years, I was just letting people get away with saying racist slurs and stereotypes. I see now how poor of a standard I was setting for myself and how selfish I was to think that it was only affecting me. I now understand that in order to become an advocate for others, you must first become an advocate for yourself.