Flip The Script Anthology

Flip the Script

Guess what’s out? In time for National Adoption Awareness Month and the #FliptheScript adoptee movement, a new Anya Diary publication: Flip the Script: Adult Adoptee Anthology. I’m beyond ecstatic to be a part of this group of essayists, photographers, poets, artists, and of course, adoptees who contributed to this volume.

My piece, “New Titles, New Stories,” reflects on some of my most influential experiences as an adoptee that have motivated me to share my story. In this piece, I grapple with coming to terms with the constant external definitions and scrutiny of being a transracial adoptee. I am honored that Diane, Rosita, and Amanda gave me the opportunity to lend my voice to the adoptee movement, and I’m happy that this piece is my first adoptee-focused published piece. It sets a strong foundation for many more reflections on my adoptee experience.

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Mother’s Day Mixed Feelings

It’s Mother’s Day.

I was thinking I should write something, because well, it’s Mother’s Day, and as an adoptee I might have mixed feelings. I do have mixed feelings today, but not because it’s Mother’s Day. I have pretty clear cut feelings about Mother’s Day. I have fairly clear cut feelings these days when I think about my mom*.

I’m sad. Sad because our time was cut short. (She died of breast cancer when I was 10.) Sad because I am accomplishing these adult milestones and she is not here. I’m not sure we ever get over wanting to make our mom’s proud. Sad because I feel like I’m forgetting her. That my memories are really only memories of stories, photographs, other people’s memories. I’m sad for all the times that I wasn’t sad because I was too busy repressing my emotions.

Repressed emotions are never good. They only come up later, with a vengeance, and at the most in opportune times. It’s so much better to feel what you feel even if you’re not immediately sure what it is you’re feeling. Sometimes you have to sit with your emotions until they unfold. That’s what I am doing now. Sitting. Waiting for the emotions to present themselves.

No, not about my mom. Those emotions are clearly, sometimes painfully, identified.

Neither about my biological mother. Those emotions were resentment, anger, confusion, fleeting.

And not about all the moms who have welcomed me and cared for me, carried me, throughout the years. That emotion is gratitude.

No, I’m waiting for emotions about my father, who is “seriously” involved with a woman, who lives halfway across the world, who he is about to go visit/live with/marry.

Yes, I have so many feelings. Feelings that I have come to understand and accept, and feelings that are yet to be fully felt. And so I sit.

But I wish my mother were here to sit with me.

 

 

* referring to my mother who raised me. not biological mother.

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Parenting TRAs

I recently joined an online transracial adoption group with group members from the across the extended adoption triad (adoptees, adoptive parents, social workers, friends of adoptees, etc.). They are admittedly heavy on the adoptive parent side, and as a result, I notice a lot of posts by (White) adoptive parents relaying an incident they encountered when with their adoptive child or in reference to their adoptive child and asking if it was racist. As a non-White person, it’s kind of humorous to hear White people asking if something was racist, because, well, we pretty much know when something that was said or done was. But, it made me reflect on my childhood and think about incidents I had that were a reflection of race and/or my family formation.

There was the time in elementary school when, in the heat of an argument, my ‘friend’ retorted, “At least my mother loved me and didn’t give me up for adoption!” Definitely about family formation. Not at all about race.

Then, there are the countless times people mistake me for my father’s wife. Sometimes it’s the hostess or wait staff at a restaurant, other times it’s a tour guide, and the first time it happened it was military personnel in line in front of us at the grocery store. In his defense, we were on a military base, and, you know, there is that whole history of G.I.s and Asian brides. But, I was in my early teens, so the idea of it all is a little bit ridiculous. Definitely about race in family formation.

Of course, the lack of incidents about the race mismatch between myself and my parents may have more to do with my race and my parents’ and how Asians are racialized coupled with where I grew up than the non-existence of racism or discrimination. Living in a Black-White Southern city with no sizable Korean population or interaction with an Asian community greatly decreases the likelihood of being shamed by my ethnic birth community.

However, that doesn’t diminish the fact that transracial adoptees (TRAs) will, at some point, experience racism and/or discrimination. While being able to discern racism and/or discrimination is important, what’s more important is equipping TRAs with tools that will help them react and respond in a healthy and self-affirming manner. First, it’s critical that TRAs not internalize racist/discriminatory interactions. TRAs must be aware of race, racism, historical and contemporary race relations, and the history of marginalized racial groups. And, this information should come from parents not because it’s important for your child to know but because it’s important for you to know. Saying nothing is saying something. Secondly, TRAs should feel comfortable and confident in addressing racist/discriminatory talk. This doesn’t mean they have to, but they should be able to if they wanted to. It’s certainly not TRAs job to educate every ignorant, racist person they come in contact with, however they should also not feel silenced or ashamed.

Even though I find it a little funny to read some of the White adoptive parents’ questions, I do find some comfort in knowing that parents are care about these issues and are engaged with a community of people where they can ask these questions, get answers, and find support.

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What’s Your REAL Name?

Name tag

I almost forgot. . . .

Morning convo at church.

Me: (sitting at the coffee bar – yes, there’s a bar because there’s a cafe in my church’s lobby – watching the service on tv, wearing my lay minister name tag)

Her: *walks up to me, looks at name tag, looks at my face, looks confused, looks back down at name tag* . . .Wen. . .dy. . .Laybourn

Me: *looking Christianly*

Her: *still with a look of pure confusion* . . .Wendy. . .your husband is. . .?

Me: *waiting for her to prophesy me a husband*

Her: *waiting for me to clear up this face-last name mismatch*

Me: No husband.

Her: Your name is Wendy. . .My name is Ray-chel.

I much rather liked the other conversation I had with a congregant who said, “Where are you from? Your accent.” See, context clues. Now I know where the conversation is headed, and I can offer information that is relevant. Memphis. I’m from Memphis.

This incident was much like one I had last weekend while presenting on a panel at a conference. The presider continued to repeat the other panelists’ names as he engaged with the audience and the presenters but only said mine when he absolutely had to (i.e., when introducing me and the title of my presentation). The other panelists had a mix of “ethnic” physical appearances and “ethnic” sounding names, so I cannot say it was because of my physical features (or hard to pronounce name). And, although I did notice that he repeatedly used the other panelists’ names (and not mine), I did not realize how marked this difference was until one of the audience members commented on it after the panel.

Lest you think this name-face confusion is relegated to people of only one racial/ethnic background let me assure you it is not. I’ve had similar experiences with people of a variety of races and ethnicities, illustrating the vast unfamiliarity with the heterogeneity of Asians and Asianness as well as the hiddenness of transracial adoption. The fact that I’m a woman also complicates matters because my last name could be by marriage, hence, the “your husband is. . .” inquiry and with the highly publicized Asian female-White male intermarriage rate perhaps more familiar.

But why does this matter? Outside of these frequent interactions where the confusion is apparent and the underlying assumptions clearly written on their faces, where is the relevance to broader issues? I can easily think of three embedded in these seemingly innocuous events:

  1. View of Asians as a monolith. This misperception obscures the variability in experiences and outcomes of different Asian ethnic groups. It becomes even more harmful when paired with the model minority myth which serves to diminish and delegitimize discriminatory and racist practices experienced by Asian ethnic groups and other minorities.
  2. Lack of inter- and intra-racial/ethnic interaction. With limited interaction, it becomes easier to believe stereotypes and myths portrayed in media (and taught in history classes).
  3. The idea of Asians as a perpetual foreigner marking us as non-American. This is apparent when people ask the “Where are you from?” question. Or the related, “No, where are you really from?,” “No, where are your parents from?,” “No, where are your ancestors from?,” “No, why do you look the way you do?” questions. It is also reflected in the confusion that my last name receives. When Asians are excluded from conceptions of who Americans are, it aids in othering and ostracizing.
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And this happened

Wendy Marie

And this (Are Americans Who Adopt Asian Children Robbing Them of Their Actual Identities? by Maya Ballin) was the article I posted that resulted in my cousin asking, “Just curious Wendy do you think you were robbed of your actual identity by being raised by your loving American family? Because that’s the message I got from your post.”

There were so many things I could have said and so many ways I could have said it, but I managed a relatively diplomatic response ending with, “However, do I think my family was able to adequately prepare me for the experience of being a non-White American? No, which in my reading of the posted article is the main point the author is examining.” The conversation that ensued was a prime illustration of why it is often so difficult to talk across color (and the correspondent experience) lines.

First, people often want you, as a minority, to educate them without them having to do any research, thinking, or experiencing on their own.

Second, we believe in and give primacy to our own experiences, which means that the experiences of others that do not match ours are seen with less legitimacy. This becomes dangerous when we live in a nation that has an embedded racial hierarchy, when you’re a member of the race at the top of said hierarchy, and when there is pervasive residential segregation. So what does this all mean? It means you can live in a white bubble where race rarely colors your daily life.

Third, it’s uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable to talk about something that could potentially challenge what have been lifelong beliefs and values. We have too much at stake – relationships, belief systems, identities.

So, back to my “loving American family.” You know, the reason my cousin asked the question that she did was because, in her words, “For those scrolling their feeds and reading just the title maybe a little more posting by you would help people not assume you are implying what the title is stating. And i know that people can be hurt by what was implied without any explanation about your understanding of the post by you.”

It had nothing to do with if I, presumably her loved one, had or was facing some sort of (identity) crisis, rather it was all about the assumed lack of care I had for my family’s feelings. Now what kind of love is that?

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