Inspiration is in the Heart of the Beholder: An Adoptee’s Work Exploring Her Identity

This post was written by Laura X. Williams, an international transracial adoptee, who was adopted from Yiwu, China at 7 months old. Laura researches adoption and is the Special Programs Coordinator for 2018 Holt Adoptee Summer camp. She will be speaking at Adoptions Together’s annual conference, Voices of Transracial Adoptees on April 21, 2018.

 

Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” –Fred Rogers

Mister Rogers always puts the struggle in perspective for me. Did you know his sister was adopted? As the movie theaters and nostalgic adults prepare for the release of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? on June 8th, I have been doing some deep thinking around the meaning of community, belonging, and what neighborhood looks like for internationally adopted, transracial adoptees.

Run-down on who I am and how I know what I know: I am an adoptee from Yiwu, China, adopted when I was 7-months old in 1995. My family’s labour pains began in the Hangzhou airport, the plane was the delivery canal through which I was rebirthed into my forever world, the Newark air-port solidified my delivery. “Welcome!” said America, “You are now the proud daughter of two Jersey born-and-raised white parents.”  We stayed in New Jersey for 19 years since then and have always had a cat around. Now, I’m 5-foot 5-inches college graduate who has made it her mission in life to foster collaborative adoption reform in the name of a more livable world for all.

What inspires you?

What initially inspired me or what inspires me to do what I do on a daily basis?

Pursuing the inquiry of adoption occurred to me as an innate, almost atavistic curiosity once society enlisted me into a future of higher education. Growing up being different in ways I had not chosen for myself, never felt troublesome. It just was. This was partly my attitude and partly my parents extremely proactive attempts to connect me with Chinese people in the United States. The spheres of Chinese dance, Families with Children from China, Chinese school, Also Known As, Inc., Chinatown NYC all became the interwoven fibers of who I was becoming. My parents tell me they would high-five ‘behind-the-scenes’ when I voiced a difficult adoption question:  “why was I given up?” “where are my birth parents?”, “what is wrong with me?”  They were just so happy I felt comfortable enough from a young age to talk to them about adoption things. It inspired my subconscious.

I’ve always wanted to help people. Once I learned to fold fortune tellers, I went on an 8-year-old’s campaign selling them for money I intended to send to my orphanage (update: the campaign didn’t last past my family during Thanksgiving dinner). I understood there were people somewhere (China) who somehow (orphanage) sustained me for the first 5,110 hours of my life. But is and has been a process for me to hold them in my heart as human instead of just a concept out in space. I may never meet them or be able to directly thank them for my salvation who felt me when I couldn’t feel myself? I need to understand myself, for something deep within me sings a melody of transgression. And I never wanted to land in a meaningless desk job. So, I used the tool around me of education to struggle through the lack of choice, disconnection because of it, and  a humanizing gratitude while meeting other adoptees who may be seeking the same social validation I was looking for.

Now what?

I remember in high school, sitting under dimmed spotlights, behind a microphone, in front of an audience of my first-generation Asian-American peers to tell them, “Tonight we heard raw stories of our strength and courage as Asian-Americans. I feel so connected to both the Asian-American community and the Adoptee community, I draw on the strength of both communities. I am double supported and feel empowered because I am of both.” I recurrently have to check my privilege.  When identity exploration informs each element of how we live our lives, and when part of that identity is a big question mark, no wonder it gets complex fast.

My mentor who is a transnational, transracial adoptee herself gives a great metaphor “It’s like, Bill Nye loves touching the slimy bacteria for science, while other people would rather not. It is the same in our pursuit of understanding adoption, some people would rather not go there while others like us, like to sit in the muck.” There’s something about complex “muck” of adoption that attracts people like me to interrogate and encourage myself to create meaning in our complex web of inter-connected relationships. I think we are all in a constant state of love- having to adjust our worldviews in order to love the most. That constant adjustment is my survival, my sustenance.

When I feel drained by the amount of intellectual and emotional energy I exert as an adoptee working in adoption, talking with other Chinese adoptees reminds me I am doing meaningful work. Giving the gift of validation for someone ungrounded is only the beginning of a deeper exchange. I’ve come to believe, no matter how micro a conversation may be, in the grand scheme of things, it holds the power to transform our social world. Even if it just transforms you.

Mister Rogers inspires me, my friendships guide me, my presence grounds me and I look forward to spreading the love in the neighborhood!

 

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