Just finished reading this most excellent blog article on Bitch, You Left Me
Plus, I’m a poet…
If I learn real facts about my birth mother, real facts about my birth, how can I continue to invent who I am? Who I want to be? Or what kind of family I hope to someday build with a partner?
The social worker who handed the file over to me and a retired social worker who was actually involved with the program that was responsible for my transracial adoption; informed me that all adoptive parents were made aware that information on the child that they had adopted would be available for the child to access when older. I know that come adoptive parents actually got copies of their child’s files and had them there ready in the home for when their child started to ask questions.
My file was full of minute details. What I was given to eat, how often, how I reacted to what I was fed, whether I smiled, whether I reacted to the world around me. The description of when I was first found was one of the entries that has clung to my memory. Mixed in with a generous amount, of what can only be described as the 60s version of ‘cut and paste.’ Stock phrases that were typed, used and reused, word for word, in the I.S.S. files of other transracial adoptees from Hong Kong.
I was found on a public stairwell in Kowloon. Number 9 Austin Avenue to be exact. I’d been dressed in a little white ‘blouse’ and green and white trousers. I was clean and swaddled. But also covered in boils and suffering from extreme malnutrition. My diminutive stature and poor health made it impossible for the authorities to accurately assess my true age, so it was recorded as being three days old. I also learnt that as a small baby I was fed meat and apparently I loved it. I was adopted by a family of vegetarians. In the 60s being a vegetarian made you a bit of a weirdo. Vegetarianism was seen as an aberrant behaviour. Another thing that singled me out for the bullies at school. The other entry in the file that stuck out was a comment made by a British social worker.
She chatters away in her own little language
My ‘chattering’ was an attempt to communicate in Cantonese. I wonder what my reaction was when no one responded. I was shocked, when I first read that comment. The shock was quickly followed angry tears. I remember the few occasions that I had begged to be allowed to learn Chinese and was told in no uncertain terms, no. Though in fairness, in 60s Britain where and how would a white family find a Cantonese tutor? Given that my adoptive parents had no connection to the Far east whatsoever.
The sadness and anger that I felt stems I think, from the fact that, even after the physical and geographic dislocation and displacement from my country of birth, I was still trying to hold on to what I had grown up with.
Even then as a small toddler I was displaying a certain “bloody-mindedness.” The language that I grew up with for the first eleven months of my life wasn’t English it was Cantonese. To have retained that seed for so long even to the extent that I was still trying by the time I’d gotten to the UK and then for that to have been quashed hit me harder than many other aspects of my unknown heritage.
It was there, the ability to speak my native language could have been kept alive. Could have been nurtured but instead it was quashed, trampled on. I was made to feel like I was doing something bad, that it was wrong to ask to learn Chinese. I was a bad child, a naughty child, an ungrateful child for wanting to know more about China and the Chinese.
I’m older, I’d like to think now, more grounded and wiser. Meaning that I can step back from the emotional abyss of my own adoption. I can see with perspective the overall situation, as it was in the 1960s.
I understand why my adoption was handled in the way that it was. Intellectually I get it.
Emotionally I don’t. I doubt that I ever will.