They call me a dirty chink and a gook, using the tips of their forefingers to slant their eyes upward while speaking to me in the tones of an Asian language. Ching chong choooww, and they laugh and laugh. One wants to spit on me, and I can see the saliva forming in his smooth, white cheeks as he puckers his lips to deliver the blow. He decides against it and spats on the ground instead. “Go back to China or wherever you’re from, chink.”
“Get back on the boat,” they yell from the end of the
cul-de-sac, their chins lifted in defiance, middle fingers raised up at me
despite being with other friends. “Go back where you come from. You don’t
Not one incident. So many. I’ve lost count. On school busses, on playgrounds, walking down the street, in stores. People don’t want me here, and I know that. I knew that every year since I was old enough to know that those names, those phrases, were meant to draw lines in the sand. You come to realize that the border always exists—imagined or real—the dividing line between outside and inside a constant threshold to belonging you will never cross. We have no place, really, in any country. We are refugees and immigrants—people of color—constantly negotiating our place in a nation that needs us and hates us all at once. We are visitors, interlopers, outsiders. I’ve lived here nearly 46 years, became naturalized at age 3, earned 4 degrees, pay taxes, and I’m still not always welcome in a place that defined itself by taking over sovereign nations—they themselves immigrants. It’s been a long while since someone sang to me the song made popular by “Lady and the Tramp” or imitated Jerry Lewis’s Asian caricature in front of me on the playground. Still, I’m hyper aware. Sometimes a look is all that’s needed—a loaded silence hanging over me while pumping gas in the wrong part of town, the confederate flag stickered proudly on the back of a truck, the news of the day bringing in stories of more people inhumanely detained. The line is always there. It’s not just my imagination. Go back where you come from still chases me down streets and slides and memories.
Worn out from years of explaining who I am and who I am not. I have grown weary of trying to assimilate into countries and cultures that ask me to be for them and not with them. I have grown fatigued of tracing a story that befits only a partial narrative, left only with speculation and the inability to reconcile the truth of the story. And I am one of the lucky ones—one of those whose story gaps were nearly filled after looking so long for the answer. But there are no complete answers, only more questions. I am tired of the questions left hanging like a string of lights above my head, filaments twisted on the inside and no longer producing a spark. They will remain unchanged—my once-steady hand exhausted from stretching out to change the bulb, the ladder I’ve used all these years weakened from my constant climb. I ache, after 40 years, from the moments I had to reel myself back in from feelings of loss and inadequacy, trying to find value in a space that wanted to compartmentalize me: my feelings, my worth, my identity. I am weakened by decades of trying to articulate what it means to be adopted, knowing that even in the best circumstance I could have been given, in many ways, I still lost. I was lost. Shuffled under damp blankets that suffocated me, weighted down by tears that accumulated in the taut threads of longing and silent suffering. Words left swallowed back down when I knew that I could not say what I felt. Hurt. Lonely. Sad. Simple statements you’re not allowed to voice because you’ll sound foolish. Ungrateful. Incomprehensible. I have typed out these ideas over decades—arthritic fingers connecting with black keys that are stiff from constant use, trying to capture the sentiments that sound like a betrayal to what I have been given. But they’re not. They’re just words, coalescing over waterfalls of ambiguity that I have lived with all these years. They’re just thoughts, simmering under surfaces of loss that I drag behind me. I am exhausted from pulling. The ropes are beginning to fray from the weight of all the time I was trying to find my worth because of one moment that makes you feel worthless forever. I am tired, Adoption. Not because you gave me everything but because sometimes, you gave me nothing.
First published on DearAdoption.com November 14, 2017.
With the recent worry about providing paperwork to affirm one’s citizenship, I have been sorting through files and boxes in my basement looking for my naturalization certificate. I just recently received a new passport, but in this political climate, I’m worried that it may not be enough. When I lived in Hanoi in 1996, the first advice given to those of us who were Vietnamese adoptees was: “Do not get in trouble with the law. If they throw you in jail, you’ll have a hard time getting back out.” I was twenty-three and rebellious enough to not care but mindful to store that bit of knowledge for later use. As adoptees of Viet Nam, most of us did not denounce our Vietnamese citizenship (effectively granting us dual citizenship up until 2011 or so). As a result, my U.S. passport was somewhat moot in 1996 in the event I was caught in the clutches of the Vietnamese government for some 23-year-old-rebellious-reason. Fast forward to 2017 and I’m now concerned about my U.S. citizenship, wondering if I will be detained upon reentry from international travel and questioned about my purpose, my background, or honestly, about my faith. It’s stressful and sad that I would question my years of U.S. citizenship or the gold star on my license. I have been filing taxes since 1992 and have enjoyed a privileged and democracy-driven life as a hard-working, U.S. citizen. Nonetheless, I still worry, and I still haven’t found my naturalization certificate.
Continue reading Paper Trails
First published on The Adoption Exchange Blog: https://www.adoptex.org/the-adoption-journey/blog/
Over the course of my life, people have been curious about my adoption story. It is a story that begins in the Vietnam War. At the time, adopting from Vietnam was as much a humanitarian movement as it was an opportunity for couples hoping to establish or expand a family. As such, questions about my adoption were numerous and while many people were supportive of my parents’ transracial, international adoption, it was still a tenuous time and the choice was not devoid of criticism by others. Adopting a child was one thing; adopting a child from an unpopular American war was quite another. Even so, my parents fielded the positive and negative comments with dignity and managed to pass on to me a healthy sense of love and belonging in a society that would not always afford me the same.
Continue reading When Difference Matters