Growing up as Chinese-American adoptee has been a process I have never fully been at peace with, nor do I think I ever will be.
Stuck between, feeling as if I can never comfortably wear my experiences as American or Chinese. A whole closet of hats I can never seem to wear in public. How I always knew that I had to tick the box off for Asian, but also knew that if walked into a Chinese restaurant, I would be lumped in with Americans as soon as the waiter came over. That while I frequently face people asking the dreaded, “where are you really from” question, I’m just as equally met with unspoken questions about my family photos.
IMPOSTOR SYNDROME, EXCUSES, & SELF-ERASURE
As a child in an area with few Asian kids in general, while I wasn’t bullied because of my appearance, I felt an acute sense of not-belonging. Whether it be because I got second looks with my parents when we attended school functions, or how when my friends and I did makeup it never worked well on my eyes (before I even knew you could have different eye shapes), or even when people assured me I’d be good at math during high school. I still haven’t met anyone who is worse at math than me.
Journeying into the city where there were more people who looked like me, I was still an outsider. I didn’t speak Mandarin, and my mom and I looked different than the other mom-and-daughter duos. Whenever someone looked at me, I was terrified they’d speak Chinese to me. Chinese dance felt like trying a new dish, not a piece of me. Regardless of whether I was doing it right or wrong, it felt, in some ways, like a performance. Constantly searching for approval that I never received.
The whole experience wasn’t one that my friends could relate to, because we had no frame of reference. And even if I had, I wouldn’t have known how to articulate the feelings in my heart. Just a separate part of my life where I felt like a fraud, like walking around with my insecurities covered up afraid I’d be called out.
After a while, the only way I knew how to deal with feeling like I didn’t belong, in Christmas cards and in after performance parties, was by erasing myself. Pulling out of dance, telling people I never wanted to find my birth mother, and quitting Chinese class, I ignored the parts of me that I couldn’t fit into what I saw around me. Telling myself it was better this way, to isolate myself from a community that I felt had only made me aware of how alone I was. Or, how alone I thought I was. I lacked the words to even ask for inclusion.
In college, I was again presented with the opportunity to connect with more Asian Americans and struck out once more. Whether it be that person who scoffed at me when I said I didn’t speak Mandarin, or feeling invisible at cultural events where everyone spoke a secret language – not even Mandarin, but this language of shared experiences. Feeling like “being adopted” was an excuse I pulled out with their families, at restaurants, and to friends.
Being adopted felt like a guilty conscience, a reason I wasn’t doing my duty of having my experiences and feelings match my interior. A feeling I can’t escape even today. One that wasn’t only from people’s probing questions or double takes, but came also from within.
YA LIT & REPRESENTATION
Only when I started reading young adult literature in the last few years, have I begun to find my footing. Through books that talk about feeling Asian-American, and the racism they experience, or books with biracial main characters, I’ve started to feel more seen.
Until finding these stories, I never had books that I felt a connection to in that way — a moment when you feel like they’ve read your mind. These moments of feeling seen have been so precious to me, which is the reason why I not only keep reading YA books, but also keep pushing other diverse stories.
Additionally, through the YA community I’ve connected with a few other Chinese-American adoptees whose friendships have made a profound impact on my life. There is power and comfort in having tangible proof I’m not alone – knowing people who see me the same way, people I can tell about the time one of my close family friends asked if I would even consider myself a person of color.
Would I love to see a Chinese-American adoptee story? Yes. While this identity, like all identities, isn’t a monolith, the emergence of more stories about adoptees like me would give me more of a chance of feeling seen. I have read more books that feature adoption, and even #OwnVoices stories, which warms my heart, but I haven’t read an #OwnVoices story by a transracial Chinese-American adoptee.
It’s more than just the feelings of Frank Li (from Frankly in Love by David Yoon) where he feels the need to apologize for his parents, or the not knowing where you fit in and struggling to see your privilege of Nevaeh (from Color Me In by Natasha Diaz), or the complicated wish fulfillment of Deming (from The Leavers by Lisa Ko). It’s wrapping it into one — an experience of constant questions about our abandonment, not only being disconnected from our birth culture, but also an inability to bridge that gap, never really knowing which table to sit at. But until the day where I can find those stories, these other books that speak to pieces of myself mean the world to me, accumulating slowly until I have cobbled together something almost whole.
Augvocate for the Day
Lili has been blogging about SFF books for over three years now and has expanded into YA books in her search for diversity and the books she wish she had growing up. She has been known to write long papers on SF, binge watch Doctor Who on weekends, and collect more enamel pins than she knows what to do with. Her blog name came from a song reference combined with her current obsession at the time, utopias and dystopias. She likes to tweet about random things, including her wish for a cat, and post rarely consistent pictures of books in nature.
This guest post is part of a month-long collaborative series called Augvocacy, which is shorthand for August with an advocacy. Essentially, this project aims to bring together like-minded individuals — be it bloggers, authors, or readers — in actively forwarding a particular advocacy. All contributors to this project are referred to as Augvocates — and each Augvocate will share their thoughts on my blog from the 1st day of August until the 28th. Find the rest of the Augvocacy 2019 posts here.
For this year, Augvocacy hopes to discuss and encourage the importance of amplifying Asian voices in books and in media. While this particular call brings attention to the oftentimes-ignored demand for more authentic Asian representation, it also aims to debunk the bigoted view that Asian cultures are a monolith and to shed light on the nuances of struggle, privilege, and identity within and across our own communities. Learn more about Augvocacy 2019 in this post.
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I’d love to hear from you!
🌻 Can you relate to Lili’s guest post? Have you ever experienced Impostor Syndrome or something similar to it?
🌻 Have you read any of the books Lili mentioned? Are you planning to pick any of them up in the future?
🌻 What are your thoughts on including more adoptees, specifically Asian adoptees, in Young Adult literature?