This is an post that I wrote for The Mothers’ Bridge of Love
Who Am I?
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. “
“How we remember, what we remember and why we remember form the most personal map of our individuality.”
I think these two quotes sum up for me the journey that I have undergone in order to answer the question “Who Am I” Over four decades ago as a toddler I was stood on a school desk by my Adoptive mother, the object for a bring and tell*. I’d been dressed in the clothes that I’d worn when I’d first flown over to the UK. Blue trousers and red silk happy coat. I was poked, prodded, pinched and laughed at. As young as I was, I realised that I was not like everyone else. I was different from everyone else. That experience and being slapped across the face at the age of about six, when I asked the direct question, had I been adopted, are the two early defining points for me and who I am. I was not able to define myself physically as I shared no physical or facial similarities to those who lived about me. My likeness was not to be found in any of the black and white TV programs that I was allowed to watch. For the first sixteen years of my life I was defined by other people, my adoptive family, relatives, neighbours, teachers and what those people projected onto me. I was the outsider. The other, a child of difference. In spite of the so called swinging sixties, living as I did in suburban conservative England different was not good. Differences were frowned upon, shunned even feared. My adoptive mother warned me when I was about seven, maybe eight. That if I ever attempted to find out where I had come from, I would be kidnapped by the Chinese embassy and taken back to China. There I would be miserable and have to grow up on a commune. That was the “cold war” working and the West’s fear and misunderstanding of China in the late 50s early 60s. My adoptive mother also warned me that if I did start being nosey, it would prove how ungrateful and wicked I was. The idea of being kidnapped and sent back to China petrified me. At that age I had a vague idea of where China was, but beyond that I new nothing of my culture or racial heritage. China was alien to me. After my adoptive mother had given me this warning I had a recurring nightmare about being kidnapped this lasted well into my late teens. However what that did do is make me want to learn more about China and where I had come from. I used to go to the local library on a weekend and read book after book about China and the Chinese. Most of which I didn’t really understand, but I read them nevertheless. The first three books I read were
- The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck
- Journey To The West by Wu Cheng’en
- Records Of The Grand Historian by Sima Qian
The offering in the local library was not extensive and new books were few and seldom. But as I grew I self taught myself on the culture of China some of its long and complex history. The language I never was able to master. But then in the early sixties without friends of acquaintances that were Chinese how would a person like me learn Chinese? My cultural discomfort, displacement and disenfranchisement has made me the actor, writer and filmmaker that I am today. I think that it is no co-incidence that I chose a profession where I spend all of my time pretending to be someone else. Speak someone else’s thoughts and express someone else’s emotions. It’s what I call “hiding in plane sight”. I think over the past couple of years since 2010 I have finally realized who I am. I am Lucy Chau lai-Tuen Sheen. Actor, writer, filmmaker and transracial adoptee. Knowing where you have come from and how you got to where you are is very important. You cannot truly move forward, progress or develop if you do not know where you have come from. If you have no cultural or linguistic foundations identity will always elude you. Now that I understand this, I can stand up and be counted for what I truly believe in as British East Asian transracially adopted person.
*Bring and tell/Show and tell a popular exercise for school children you would be asked to bring in a object and then stand up in front of your class and talk about the object.