Some people are surprised when I tell them I am neither protransracial adoption nor antitransracial adoption. I readily accept that in my own personal circumstances, had I not been adopted I may not have lived to see my fifth birthday. If I had survived infant mortality and grown up in the orphanage, it is very unlikely I would have grown up and become the actor, writer, and filmmaker I am today. For that, I am profoundly grateful. But, I no longer feel that I have to be grateful; I no longer feel beholden to the people who adopted me.
Is that cruel and disrespectful to the people who adopted me?
No. I freely acknowledge what the act of adoption gave me in material terms. No one can deny that. But life, living is not comprised solely of materialistic attributes. It has taken years of therapy to partially unravel the Gordian knot that transracial adoption created in me. It has taken 20 years to show me that there is no need for me to feel guilty, beholden, or duty bound. I was adopted in a time where knowledge and understanding of self, identity, and culture just was not there. Whilst no one is to blame for how transracial adoptions were administrated during that time, how these adoptive parents were advised to deal with adopting these Hong Kong babies, I can only surmise. However these early adoptive parents were counselled or guided, one cannot get away from the overriding feeling that the thinking at that time was that a “clean break” was best.
The cost for me personally was/has been/is too high a price to pay. The years of therapy; the nervous breakdown; the loss of culture; the impact on confidence and low self-esteem; the loss of personal and cultural identity and, most devastating of all, the loss of my native language can never be recovered. Rejected by the British who adopted me and the Chinese who gave birth to me presents a constant challenge to maintain balance and perspective even now.
I was denied contact with my birth culture, stripped of my name, denied the tools or resources to learn how to communicate in my native tongue, and I was cut off from my heritage and ancestry. No amount of therapy can return the birthright to me that was denied me. To my recollection, the family who adopted me never ever sat me down and explained to me that I had been adopted. Where I had come from and why I had been adopted. I asked, I persisted, and I was reprimanded and punished for doing so. Ignorance is not bliss. I knew very early on that I was unlike most children. I did not look like my parents, and my parents did not look like me. In fact, I did not look like anybody else. In the age of premulticultural, pre-Internet, premobile phones and social media, finding others like me in the 60s and 70s even in a relatively small country like the UK was nigh on impossible.
As a mature adult, as a recovering adoptee, I consider the effects of transracial adoption. I wonder how families can see adopting a baby as a “perfect” solution, how they imagine then being the “ideal family,” perfectly made, handpicked. I wonder how some believe that somehow having an instant family by adoption could be the fairy-tale ending with all living happily ever after. Even in this day and age of supposed cultural awareness and sensitivity, I still come across adoptive parents and would-be adopters who state quite openly that love is the be all and end all, that a “loving home” is all that is needed to raise a transracially, transnational, cross cultural child. Well if “love is all we need,” the human race irrespective of religious, cultural, and ethnic standing, we would be at peace. We would be getting along famously. We would be forging a head en masse eradicating world poverty, hunger, and disease.
But that is not the way of the world. For us as human beings, diversity and difference are as important to the individual as they are to the nation. We need our identity as surely as we need air to breathe. Difference makes us who we are, finding the commonality reminds us that in spite of our differences, we are essentially all the same under our skin. Belittle, trivialise, deny, quash, or ignore those differences at your peril. Understanding is what is required. Understanding, understanding, understanding—which in turn means acquisition of knowledge, knowledge, and more knowledge. When the challenges ahead are already multifaceted and too numerous to mention, ignorance and denial are rods of one’s own making which will bear down upon the back.
Transracial adoption should, in my opinion be the very last option when all other options have been exhausted. Then and only then should there be any thought of removing a child from his or her country of birth. For once you have severed the cultural umbilical cord, no matter what you do, it can never fully be reattached.
Better support for third-world countries to deal with adoption and fostering domestically is preferable. And, more international cooperation from first world countries to support and financially uphold and better such systems and procedures for adoption and fostering domestically is needed. And, those children who can only be helped by such a drastic intervention as transracial adoption should receive linguistic and cultural support, mandated by law. I’m not talking about joining a Sunday school or after school club comprised solely of other adoptees or just being taught a few traditional songs or doing a collage about the Moon Festival. I’m advocating that all transracially adopted children be fully supported until at least the age of 16 to learn their native language and to understand their cultural heritage and where they have come from. If they choose not to pursue such an interest at an age when they are able to make such decisions, they can do so; but, they will have the cultural and linguistic skills to be able to communicate, to exist, if they so wish to amongst or in the country of their birth.
I am fine within myself now. I know who, what, and what I am not, and I am at peace with that. I no longer try to fit in to other people’s narrow expectations. I am who I am, a woman pursuing my dream in the field of the arts, and a recovering adoptee.
An original contribution from The Forgotten Adoptee. British-Chinese actor, writer, film maker. Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama graduate. 30+ yrs of professional experience. Hong Kong transracially adopted child and a dyslexic who still can’t work out how on earth you’re supposed to use a dictionary.