The Truth About Adoption

I’m sitting alone in the dining hall at one of those two-person tables, browsing the NPR site, catching up on world news, and attempting to eat undercooked green beans in a socially acceptable manner. I glance up at a motion out of the corner of my eye to see a small Asian girl scouring the area for an empty table. Unsuspecting, I return to my computer screen.

To my surprise, said girl approaches the table and asks in a slight accent if she can sit in the empty chair across from me. Expecting a slightly awkward encounter wherein we share a table as strangers but don’t talk–and with my computer as a barrier between us–I agree. At such a big school, complete strangers sitting together is not uncommon. Sometimes you might exchange pleasantries and basic facts about yourself–name, year, major–but mostly people will keep to themselves.

Not this girl. Right off the bat, she begins asking me where I got my dress. Not a strange question by any means. I give her a brief, generic answer–“Oh, I don’t remember” (truth)–and return to eating. Then, like a police interrogation, the questions come in rapid succession.

“Are you Korean?”

“No, I’m Chinese.”

“Oh, okay. You kind of dress like a Chinese person.”

*uncomfortable laughter* “Um… Are you Korean?”

“No, I wish! Korean people are so pretty!”

I continue reading, hoping this is the end of the conversation. It’s not that I’m a rude person–it’s just that I came to eat dinner by myself and spend some quality time with NPR. And this conversation continues to take increasingly uncomfortable turns.

Instead, she begins asking me what language I speak at home. I explain to her that I don’t speak Chinese, just English. “I’m adopted, I say.”

Here’s the kicker: “Oh, sorry,” she replies.

Now I’ve noticed her accent. I understand that I may be able to blame some of this on a language barrier. But “sorry”? “Sorry” you asked, or “sorry” I was adopted? Because neither are something to apologize for.

Truth #1: I’m not ashamed to be adopted.

People seem to have this misconception that being adopted is a negative thing–that you’re missing out on some important aspect of your life. Truth? I’m just like any other kid. My parents might not look like me, and I might not have their genetic material, but that doesn’t mean that they mean any less to me, or that I mean any less to them. It also doesn’t mean that I’m miserable or shocked at the state of my life, that I’m in a deep state of depression because I don’t know my birth parents, or that my life’s dream is to find said birth parents.

I think we can blame it partially on the media for portraying adoption as something with shock value–that it ruins kids’ lives to be told they’re adopted, that it should induce gasps of surprise and a complete reconstruction of one’s life. Perhaps this stems from society’s expectations for people to have children of their own, that somehow if you adopt it implies that perhaps you couldn’t have kids, which implies that you’re somehow a lesser person. None of this is true, of course–whether you adopt because you’re unable to have kids of your own or just because you want to change a child’s life… it doesn’t matter. And doing so doesn’t make you any less of anything.

I’m also not hell-bent on finding my biological parents. Yeah, it would be cool to know, I guess. But then what? They’re total strangers to me, and they’re on the other side of the globe. What would happen afterwards? How would it make my life any more fulfilling? Of course, this desire differs from adoptee to adoptee–some do seek out their birth parents, with great effort. Personally, it’s not something I worry about.

At this point the twinge of awkwardness has started to increase at an exponential rate. I may not be ashamed to be adopted, but admittedly, this is kind of a strange conversation to have with a complete and total stranger. However, she continues digging herself deeper. I’m not sure if she even realizes it, but it’s just getting worse.

“So, do you know your real parents?” she asks.

Truth #2: My birth parents are NOT the same thing as my “real” parents.

My real parents are the two people who raised me, cared for me, and loved me here in America. They are not the people I’ve never met on the other side of the sea. All adopted kids know what people mean when they say “real parents.” They also know that by no means are their biological parents the same thing as “real parents” in any way, shape, or form. To ask an adoptee about their “real parents” is offensive and shows your ignorance. It completely and totally belittles everything their ACTUAL real parents have done for them throughout their lives. Take the time and say “birth parents” or “biological parents.” And again, understand that for some of us, knowing our birth parents isn’t the most important thing in our lives.

I’m about to go a little crazy on her–really, I could rant for ages about this, berating her for her terminology–but instead I just say, “Oh, no,” and begin packing up my stuff. I don’t want to have this conversation right now. I just want to yell, “Take the table and stop asking me questions!” but I can’t. Instead I say, “You can have the table, I’m going to go do homework.” We finally formally introduce ourselves before I quickly leave.

Truth #3: This experience is not a one-time thing.

The sad thing is, this is not an uncommon exchange to have. Versions of it–blatant ignorance and, to some degree, racism even, have been cropping up in my life for a long time. There was the time a random guy saw my (also adopted) sister and me and said, “Where’d you get ’em?” “The usual way,” my father replied matter-of-factly.

Then there was the time we were in Williamsburg, VA, leaving after a 4th of July fireworks display. A lady came running up to my mother, yelling, “Bless you, bless you!” before proceeding to interrogate her about my sister and me, as if my parents had “saved” us from some horrible fate by taking us in.

Oh, and the time–very recently, in fact–my sister and I were entering a store and were confronted by a man who only said, “Oh, I’m really good at guessing things like this… Korean?” I literally had no words for him. We told him we were Chinese and brushed past him.

It astonishes me that there are still people in this world who could act like that. And yet, although I couldn’t say I’m “used” to these occurrences, I definitely can’t NOT expect them. There will always be ignorant people who say the wrong thing, potentially without knowing it. And I have to learn to live with it.

The best thing I can do is to educate people–to prove that I am more than my race, more than my race compared to my parents’ race, more than my adoption, more than just what’s on the surface. To show that while my adoption is certainly a vital part of my life, it is not what defines me. To demonstrate that cultural ideas about adoption are often skewed and over-exaggerated. To learn from other adoptees who may have different feelings and experiences about their own adoptions. To tell people that adoption is a good thing, that you shouldn’t be ashamed of adopting or being adopted, and that lives are often changed for the better because of adoption.

~J

For more info, check out:

Chinese Children Adoption International

US State Dept’s Adoption Site

How Adoption Works

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