“Transracial adoptees embrace differences, seek their own identities”

I just thought I’d post a recent article that was written about my little sister and her friend who are both TRAs.  I’m glad to see them so actively pursuing these questions and exploring identity.

I’m not including a link since I’ve altered their names a bit to try to preserve some privacy and anonymity.  Check out the article below however.  G.S.

Transracial adoptees embrace differences, seek their own identities

SCARBOROUGH – “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong.” The old “Sesame Street” jingle has taught countless kids to spot which item in a group looked different.

If you’re harvesting wild mushrooms, that knowledge could save your life.

But for thousands of transracial adoptees, whose adoptive family members look nothing like them, they are all too aware of the stares of others and of the silent judgments.

“That one doesn’t belong.”

Transracial adoptees, or TRAs, are children who have been adopted by parents of a different race or ethnicity. According to U.S. Department of Homeland Security statistics, close to 212,000 children were adopted in the United States from other nations between 1989 and 2004. While no records exist that show what percentage were transracial, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that in 1998, 15 percent of the 36,000 adoptions were transracial or transcultural.

Scarborough High School freshmen Hoai Thi and Jin are both TRAs. Though they giggle and often finish each other’s thoughts as if they’d been best friends forever, they met for the first time last April on a class trip to Quebec.

But their bond was immediate.

“Everybody needs to know somebody like themselves,” said Hoai Thi, who was born in Vietnam.

Though TRAs’ obvious difference from their families – as well as from most others in the overwhelmingly white state of Maine – is one of race, they must also deal with less tangible struggles over identity.

“You grow up thinking you’re white,” Hoai Thi said. “Only when you go out into the world do you realize, ‘No, I’m not white.’”

And Jin, originally from China, added, “We are totally white on the inside. The way we feel and act is like a white person.”

In a paper she wrote last May, Hoai Thi compares her experience as a TRA to a pear sprout, growing in less than ideal conditions, that is clipped from its roots and grafted onto an apple tree.

“Despite being a pear, I grew up as an apple,” she wrote. “Today, everything about me is apple except my looks, for which I am constantly reminded by the stares of passersby that inaudibly but obviously ask, ‘Why is there a pear in the apple tree?’”

It is this constant struggle, not only of the genetic versus environmental identity that plagues many adoptees, but of the ethnic or racial identity passed on to them by their birth parents, that ties them to two cultures and brands them an anomaly in their own adopted country.

“When you perceive the world without mirrors you don’t see yourself,” Hoai Thi said. “When you see yourself, you realize you have a dual identity.”

Hoai Thi and Jin both attend an adoption support group for teens, offered twice monthly in Portland by MAPS Adoption & Humanitarian Aid. Comprised primarily of transracial adoptees, the group offers the girls a nonjudgmental place to compare experiences and share feelings with others who truly understand.

While Hoai Thi and Jin enjoy the camaraderie and encouragement of the group, they also thrive within their circle of school friends. Even while they wrestle with their differences, they embrace them and are proud of them.

But when they experience racial discrimination, it is harder for them as transracial adoptees, because they say their parents can’t fully understand the hurt they feel and can’t advise them in the same manner Asian parents would.

In addition to the prejudice, it’s the insensitive – though often well-meaning – comments of some that make living in a white state and being a part of a white family so challenging.

“What people need to know is the stereotyping,” Jin said.

“People only comment when you look different,” Hoai Thi added. “But everybody’s different.”

The girls believe much of the stereotyping is exacerbated by negative or nonexistent role models of people of color on television. For example, with Jackie Chan, one of the few widely recognized Asian actors, now a Saturday morning cartoon, children may associate martial arts with all who are of Asian descent.

Then there are the comments to their parents: “You are so wonderful to have saved your daughter from life over there,” or, “I hope she realizes what you have done for her.”

Though Hoai Thi and Jin realize these remarks are well-intended, they put a heavy burden to be grateful onto adoptees who had no choice.

Not that the two are not grateful. They both say they “have been blessed” by having their adopted families. And they agree that transracial adoption is necessary.

“Every child should have a family that loves them,” Hoai Thi said.

But they want to raise awareness of the paradoxical layers of emotions and identity so many transracial adoptees go through. And they want to help end the immediate response of, “That one doesn’t belong,” when people see them within the context of their families.

“I’ve never been able to call myself normal,” Jin said. “I’ve just been able to say I’m me.”

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