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.
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.
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.
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.