“My mom said that I was born somewhere near the Gobi desert…it’s in Gan…Su…do you know where it is?”
The seven-year-old girl with beautiful dark black eyes stared at a map of China curiously. As I roughly showed her the location of Gansu, her eyes followed the tip of my finger to a small area on the map that is foreign to her. But little did she know, that’s where she came from. She seemed eager to know more, but that’s all I can show her without knowing the details of her birthplace. I looked at her, and found it hard to relate to this lovely little girl who loves My Little Pony and who just got a vampire teeth for Halloween like any ordinary American kid. Perhaps she’s never going to know exactly where she was born, or who her biological parents are. Perhaps she has to live with this mystery surrounding her place of origin, the origin of her birth parents, the origin of her story as an orphan in China.
She is one of the many kids at China Care (A student organization which helps better the lives of Chinese adoptees through mentorship programs) who were adopted by American families. While playing with these lovely kids, I usually avoid topics related to their identity, but it remains an issue that sometimes hits me and their parents.
Two weeks ago, during a panel discussion with high school adoptees and parents at China Care, a teenage girl adopted from Vietnam talked about how happy she was when she discovered “her people” as she called them, during her travel to Vietnam her homeland. I saw her face light up as she talked passionately about how willing she was to go back to Vietnam again and to get involved in any jobs related to her home country. Even though the people she met were simple ordinary folks, it makes her feel good to find people who look ethnically similar to her and discover the place where she feels truly belonged.
There was also a China Care parent who did a DNA test for her daughter and located her rather remote but genetically-linked cousin. At first, she was not sure about how this piece of information might affect her child, but she was surprised to see that she was indeed excited to know that she has a relative. Although there is no information on her biological parents or family history, she found it positive for her child to know at least she is not alone – there are people genetically related to her!
Another parent once asked her child whether she felt more comfortable to have more Asians in her school as they walked around Brown campus one day and noticed many Asian students. The answer was no doubt “Yes”. The parents also asked me which college has the most Asians. It was the first time that I saw parents eager to send their children to colleges with a large Asian student population because they want their children to study in an environment where they can connect with more people who look like them.
The little girl who wishes to know her birthplace, the Vietnamese adoptee who is happy to see “her people”, the excited child who learned that she has a remotely related cousin, and the parents who want to send their children to schools with more Asians — they all remind me of the natural propensity that we human beings always have to relate ourselves with somewhere or someone, through similarities like kinship or race. Being an individual doesn’t mean that we aren’t related to others. We might want to be unique, but we might never want to be unique to the extent that we no longer share any similarities with others. I sometimes feel sorry that the kids at China Care might not have the chance to know their birth parents, but I guess what we can do is to help them understand that they aren’t alone. They are in America now – always related to their adoptive parents, their friends and even China Care mentors, not through kinship, but through friendship and love.
Fang is a senior at Brown University. You can contact Fang Guo at firstname.lastname@example.org.