I haven’t had an adoption “crisis” since I was 10, when my birth parents’ abandonment loomed over me with bitter wishes that I had been assigned male at birth.
As a teenager, my adoption was always just another feature that didn’t say much about me, it was just there. It wasn’t something I chose, just like I didn’t choose the color of my eyes or hair.
But then the New York Times published a lengthy article in a recent magazine section about hundreds of South Korean adoptees who have, in an Exodus-like fashion, decided to return to South Korea and become living and breathing Korean. Many, in fact, are anti-international adoption.
Amongst other reasons, many of these adoptees cite their struggles to identify with the caucasian identities that are ingrained within them as their motivation to return to where they were born. They condemn international adoption as it takes a child out of their native culture, and in many cases strips them of everything but their skin color.
Now, after 10 years of being content with my adoption, I am finding it somewhat difficult to disagree with these arguments.
Adoption in and of itself is something that I strongly believe in.
Living beings are being given homes that are actively wanting to love them, and perhaps being given the opportunity for a life much better than anything they could have been born into.
When I was 7, I told my mother that when we got a dog, I wanted it to be one that we adopted, not bought, because then we’d be giving a puppy a home, just like I had been given one.
At the same time, there are many practicalities of the adoption of children that leave questions on the table about what the “right” way to go about it might be.
Several years ago, after being asked questions from a friend who was interested in adopting, I asked my mother how much she had paid for me when I was adopted. Even more recently, I told someone that my mother and I weren’t related when they tried to point out similarities in our faces after finding out that we were parent and child.
It is sufficient to say that, on both occasions, I was on the receiving end of near-life-ending glares that told me I was being incredibly callous.
My mother–who I do consider my mother–did not pay for me as though I were a commodity, did not raise me only to hear me say that we were not family. She decided to adopt as a single woman because she wanted to create a motherly connection with someone to call her own.
My acknowledgement of the somewhat obvious nature of adoption, to her, is negating. Because of her, my life has the perfect picture of an average middle-class Jewish girl growing up in Silicon Valley. Because of her, I am who I am, and that is someone who is loved.
Despite my great fortune, I was born Chinese, but I have never been Chinese. Is that not somehow negating, too?
I am not ungrateful, or at least I hope that I do not come off that way. But in my brain now is the niggling knowledge that I could create a life for myself that tries to create what might have been had I not been adopted, and it has awoken a large part of my identity that I haven’t thought to unpack before.
What does it mean to have what is almost akin to a secret identity, one that you don’t even know about, one that has never been awoken because it was never given the chance?
International adoption is a give and take, and the question on the table is whether that take could be near robbery. Is my life one giant cultural appropriation? Have I been burgled of my true identity?
I could be the pillager or the pillaged, without even knowing it. My life might be one big lie, even though I have never been told untruths about my parentage or cultural background.
Analyzing my adoption in a way that isn’t just accepting it as an integral part of my being is different, almost painfully fraught with might-have-beens of gargantuan proportions.
Regardless of whether I have been set up in a life that shouldn’t have been mine, I am making my own decisions now as an adult.
Putting aside a little time to figure out my identity as a Chinese-born woman is something I think I can comfortably afford.