February 1st, 2012 by admin

11 Comments

A Conscious Focus

A Conscious Focus

Anonymous

Families with trans-racial adopted children are becoming more common, both within the LDS community and without. But what is it like to grow up as that child in a family that doesn’t look like you? This anonymous perspective, from an Asian woman adopted into a white family as a baby, shares the pain and joy of being adopted into a trans-racial family.

You were adopted as an infant. At what point did you realize your family was a little different than others?

I was adopted by my family before I was one year old. Shortly after birth in my home country, I was abandoned on a doorstep. I came to the US on a plane with several other adoptees, and my mother was waiting at the airport for me.

My mother says I realized from an early age that I looked different; I was surrounded by white people, but I still knew I was different. One day, when I was young, I found a picture of an Asian baby in a magazine and carried that picture around with me for weeks.

My siblings say they didn’t notice anything different, and just accepted me as part of the family. But, there were moments when we were younger when they were embarrassed about being different from other families or didn’t know how to handle inappropriate questions or comments. People at church – a place where you should feel safe and accepted – would make comments that hurt, like my skin was darker because I was cursed. I felt alienated and hurt. I couldn’t express much of what I was feeling because there was such an outpouring of optimism and expectations of gratitude, like “You’re so lucky to be saved from a bad life in that other country.” It felt wrong to tell people I wished I had another identity.

It felt wrong to tell people I wished I had another identity.

I spent so much time wishing I were white or fit in better with my family, which isn’t something that’s healthy for children. My parents are both white and had grown up in white communities so they didn’t realize things were that different for me. I grew up during a time when people didn’t know that trans-racially adopted children struggled to reconcile competing visions of how they fit in the world and their families. Adoptee families will often say things like, “Race doesn’t matter, we love you no matter what you look like, and we’re all the same on the inside.” There was little dialogue about the need to prepare children for the fact that people, even well intentioned people, frequently comment on trans-racial adoptive families in insensitive and sometimes inappropriate ways.

How did you come to terms with your adoption?

I had so much anger and hurt built up inside of me about abandonment and the isolation I felt. My family lived in an area that was similar to the ones they grew up in, so there were virtually no other racial groups. Additionally, I didn’t feel like a “real” Asian or Asian-American because my parents weren’t Asian. I had no idea where I fit because I was constantly reminded that I wasn’t white.

Because I had no way to understand or articulate the pain I was in for so long, I started making really destructive choices. After college, I had a crisis point where everything became too much and I thought it would be better not to be alive than continue on. At that point, I started learning that my parents loved me and weren’t going to send me back, and that they never thought of me as second best or a substitute for a biological child. I started going to counseling, and my parents went too. Without their unfailing support, especially my mother’s, I doubt I would have made it. We had to work through what it means to be a minority family and learn how to talk about race. We also had to work through abandonment issues just like other families who adopt, regardless of race.

Developing my faith and a relationship with God helped me heal. The Atonement came into play for me when I realized that I could be healed from all the anger, isolation, and bitterness I had. I’m friends with a lot of adopted people who carry so much bitterness and hurt with them from their upbringing – they’ve cut off contact with their adoptive families, even moved to other countries, trying to get away from the hurt. But I’m lucky; I haven’t had to do that.

The Atonement came into play for me when I realized that I could be healed from all the anger, isolation, and bitterness I had.

How can trans-racial families help bridge the gap and help their adopted children to feel part of the family?

Some say all you need is love to raise a child. Others rely on resources like culture camps and so forth.  It’s not so much about keeping or adopting cultural practices as the cure-all, but more about helping children feel accepted and part of a community. Some families find groups of other adoptive children and spend time with trans-racial families. This lets their children know that they can be part of another culture and part of the family at the same time. It’s important for many families to have a support network so that children don’t feel like they stand out and stand alone.

How has your background affected your parenting style?

Becoming a mother changed me. I was a little nervous to have children, because of my history. I want to believe that my birth parents decided to place me for adoption out of necessity and not because they didn’t want me. Once I had children, I realized that it didn’t matter why my birth parents placed me; my adoptive parents chose to raise me and they taught me how to love my own children. Once I had children I stopped worrying that there was some flaw in me handed down from my birth parents. Having children and creating my own family unit healed me of a lot of the hurt I’d harbored my whole life.

Race is a big, conscious focus in our family. My husband and I are a trans-racial couple and our kids definitely look like me. When he is out with the children, people assume they are adopted or that he isn’t related by blood to them. People ask questions like, “What are they?” The kids notice difference in race, in our family, and in our community, but we try to explain that being different isn’t bad – it’s just different.

Race is a big, conscious focus in our family.

We’ve lived in very diverse cities, and in places that are predominantly white; no matter where we go, race comes up. We just work through it a day at a time. It’s heartbreaking having to explain to my children why another child makes faces or teases them about the way they look. At the same time, I’m grateful that I have the Gospel and my own parents’ example so I can teach my children about Christ-like compassion for others.

 

Interview produced by Lyndsey Payzant Wells.

 

 

11 Comments

  1. lyndsey
    8:54 pm on February 1st, 2012

    Conducting this interview was a big eye opener for me — I’m white and grew up in a white family, in a diverse place where different races were common. I never realized the struggle trans-racial families face, especially adopted children. Now I try to make a conscious choice to include everyone, wherever I go — regardless of whether they are a different race from me. I think all women can identify with some of these feelings of alienation and loneliness, so this perspective is a great reminder for all of us to be sure we make others feel included.

  2. obzansky@hotmail.com
    1:36 pm on February 2nd, 2012

    I am married to an Asian man. Our kids are mixed race. I do not look like my children. But nobody has ever asked me “what are they” when asking about my children. No other child has teased my children ever about their skin color or race. I have never received weird looks. We have lived all over the USA (East cost, Midwest, South, and Rocky Mountains) and neither my husband, myself, or my children have experienced subtle or overt racism.

    I’m sure we talk about race more than other families. We are very open about it. My child said at the dinner table when he was 4 years old, “Mommy is white like milk, rice, and tofu.” And we all thought it was hilarious.

    I’m grateful the people aren’t as backwards about race as it used to be.

    My advice, if you get asked about your child’s race, like “what are they,” don’t ASSUME that the person asking is racist. Sometimes a question is just a question. You will tell them and they might reply, “that’s cool.” It is not a big deal.

  3. As Sistas in Zion
    11:37 am on February 3rd, 2012

    We have many people in our circle of family and friends that are trans-racially adopted. Some of them share experiences very similar to yours. Some have even been at the crisis point you described and sadly some are no longer here to tell their story as you have done. We truly feel blessed that you were able to find the support and help you needed during your crisis and that you were willing to share with us and give insight into your life. We know many, many souls in need of your words.

    @obzansky@hotmail.com There are many times in life when we meet people who have a likeness in situation to ours, but a difference in experience. Just as you and the interviewee share that you are both in trans-racial marriages with one party being Asian. Anonymous has shared her experiences with us and they differ vastly from your experience in the same situation.

    Sometimes when we respond to another persons experiences by telling them how we are in the same situation, but that “never” happens to us, it leaves the person feeling even more isolated than they already did. What it may say to the person who is struggling, is, it’s you, other people have trans-racial marriages and nobody asks them what their kids are, something must be wrong with “me” and “my kids.”

    It is wonderful that you are able to make a statement such as: “I’m grateful the people aren’t as backwards about race as it used to be.” And what that thankfully means is that you are BLESSED to have been in a similar situation and not have been subjected to the same experiences that the interviewee has.

    When someone asks about ones children “what are they?” It certainly does not mean they are racist, however it is not a common question that people in stereotypical relationships get asked. And it surely can not be considered a sensitive question. Yes we have choice over our responses, but that doesn’t make it any less awkward, hurtful, or whatever the person being asked the question may feel.

    We don’t want you to assume that we found your comment to have any kind of malicious tone, because we did not. We are most definitely guilty of using our experiences to counter anothers. We’ve been in a conversations where someone is sharing experiences they’ve had with our faith and in defense we’ve made it known that their experience did not mirror our own.

    And we too have been in situations where people’s responses to our experiences have been; Well I’m a mother too and that has NEVER happened to me, I’m a woman and that has NEVER happened to me, I’m black and that has NEVER happened to me, I’m Mormon and that has NEVER happened to me, etc. Those responses at times left us feeling like our experiences were not valid. And when we have been guilty of doing so to others we imagine it left them feeling the same.

  4. Erin
    7:40 pm on February 3rd, 2012

    Thank you–these kinds of stories are helpful and eye-opening. However, I’m always left with the thought, “What would have been the appropriate thing to say?” If the answer is “nothing,” then that would negate a lot of the things that Anonymous said–if I ignore there is a difference, aren’t I in a sense ignoring you? Is there an appropriate comment to make? Sometimes I see someone who is obviously of a trans-racial background and I ask questions about the person’s heritage simply because I have a fascination with trying to identify someone’s origin (I do this with accents, too). It has nothing to do with racism but everything to do with a fascination with the diversity around me. I think many trans-racial people are more stunningly beautiful than even some of the most beautiful people of a racially dominant background.

  5. Not a big deal to ask "what are they" Seriously!!
    4:47 pm on February 6th, 2012

    It is true that we have never been discriminated. I was saying that as background information on our family.

    Personally, I do not think people discriminate these days like the old days. Of course, there will always be some idiot racists out there. There will always be racially insensitive people out there too (out of ignorance, I believe.)

    Neither my husband nor I are adopted; I am not Asian. We cannot relate fully to Anonymous life story. Not many folks can. Yet, here we all are commenting on her story and on other stories at Mormon Women Project.

    I can contribute to her life perspective. I hope she is open to that because she posted her story on MWP for all to see and to comment on.

    I stand by what I said in my initial post.

    Seriously

  6. Empathy
    10:53 am on February 8th, 2012

    I think the poster above is getting hung up on one detail that the article mentioned that made the author feel alienated but ignores the totality of the author’s life experiences as a transracial adoptee and the signficance of the detail in that life. I can’t imagine what it feels like to grow up and realize at early age that you look nothing like the rest of your family–never having the sense of belonging and inclusiveness that looking the same as the people around you affords. Also having to defensively answer the questions: Why are you different? Where are you from? Why don’t you look like your family? No, I mean where are you REALLY from (because you obviously aren’t American)? Having to continually answer questions about your origins, your existence, and your place in the universe–especially for a child–is not only taxing emotionally but probably spiritually draining and disruptive.

    To belittle someone else’s life experiences because it doesn’t conform to your own or your vision of what the world is or how it’s supposed to be is a callow and somewhat unsophisticated response. However, it’s a great illustration of how well meaning people are creating the circumstances that contribute to a lot of heartache for a large number of transracial adoptees. The parents of most transracial adoptees love their children just like their own, but they lack the education, the tools, and the wherewithal to help their children navigate a world and a life that they can’t understand. I’m not blaming anyone; I don’t think anyone is at fault, but a recognition of the valid pain that other people are suffering and working with them to ameliorate it (rather than dismiss it because it has no relevance to my life) seems like the most Christ-like response.

  7. Marie
    7:54 am on March 14th, 2012

    Thanks very much for sharing! Your experiences touch my heart and open my eyes. Life is all about learning how to understand, love, and forgive each other. Sometimes we lack experiences that teach us empathy.

    I had a painful experience recently. We wanted to invite our son’s good friend to come on a vacation with us. We were going to visit family in another state. My son texted his friend with the invitation. His friend was happy and excited to come, but he said in his text, “Do they know you’re bringing a nigga?” I think the question was meant to be a joke, but our friend was also wondering if his skin color would be OK. It still brings tears to my eyes to consider the pain our friend has probably experienced that would prompt him to ask his question.

  8. Tasha
    5:17 pm on August 12th, 2012

    Some random thoughts:

    I sometimes feel a kinship with those who are transracially adopted. In part because it was close to being me and in part because I stick out in my family. I think it’s quite common for white people to not understand the dialogue around race. It’s easy to when most people look like you. I have a diverse group of friends/family and the way that race is discussed can be so different that I sometimes find myself explaining a conversation that I had with one of my minority friends to the white ones.

    I’m biracial (nigerian/white american) and “what are you?” questions are quite common. Frankly I prefer those questions (as long as they’re respectful and they generally are) as opposed to assumptions. It would drive me nuts that people would drop me into a box without my permission….expecially since that box rarely fit. It was also a great lesson into people’s perceptions about race….how people place others and develop labels to help them make sense of the world. Anything that doesn’t fit cleanly lends to curiosity, ignorance, and sometimes really stupid comments.

    My brothers had a different reaction. Each one of them had a point in their (usually young) life where they realized that their sister was a little darker than them and would ask why? I’d answer them honestly and they’d accept that. Maybe it was growing up with rambunctious boys or the fact that all of us were mixed with something (though not necessarily the same mixture), but race was often funny or ignored by them. Some would purposely show off their older sister just to watch people’s mouths drop. Others would just tell their friends and couldn’t fully comprehend why it was a big deal.

  9. Melissa
    7:10 am on July 15th, 2013

    What I love about MWP is that I get the opportunity to understand more about my fellow sisters and their lives. I have had several friends who were trans-racially adopted, or adopted trans-racially. This was a great post to help me understand more about their experiences and get some answers to questions I was hesitant to ask in the past. Reading someone else’s story helps me think about how I can relate to those who share this experience in a meaningful way. Thanks to Anonymous for sharing, and for MWP for giving her story a voice!!!

  10. Jennifer
    11:37 am on July 15th, 2013

    Thank you so much for this post and for you honesty about your experiences. I think this is an important discussion and a worthy topic. I would think that we would ALL want to do our best to minimize any hurt feelings in God’s precious children and to be inclusive always. I think the struggle for most of us is this: do we do more damage by completely ignoring differences (and therefore the things things that make us who we are) or do we do more damage by acknowledging and exploring those differences?

  11. Lindsey from therhouse.com
    7:37 am on July 16th, 2013

    As a mom of a very diverse transracial family, this fantastic info. Thank you for the advice. Thank you for your perspective. Thank you for taking the time to teach us in a positive way about something that was/is painful for you.

    You’re a rock star!

    XOXO

    P.S. When people ask me “what are they?” I usually say with an enthusiastic, grateful and adoring smile, “They are my adorable little people!” This usually forces them reword the question in a way that I don’t find so abrasive if they really want to know the answer. ;)

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