Thursday, February 2, 2012

To Whom It May Concern

For as long as I can remember, I have wondered where I came from. My olive skin, almond eyes and black hair never quite fit in — whether at home with my Caucasian adoptive family, or at my rural (read: white) elementary school. That sense of not belonging followed me into my teenage years. I will never forget the man who told me, as I rang up his groceries, “Your people are such hard workers.” It was a harsh reminder that, despite my American citizenship, some people would never see me as one of “theirs.” The irony, of course, is that neither he nor I actually knew who “my people” were.

Over the years, I’ve attempted to sate my appetite for answers through primarily academic methods. I took a History of China course in college. On my own, I’ve read books about the history of Taiwan. I subscribe to a monthly electronic newsletter from the Taiwanese government, and to another from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. I’ve followed twin studies (most recently the cover story of National Geographic) that examine the forces of nature and nurture. I’ve purchased adoption-related memoirs and watched documentaries about the subject. A trained journalist, I’ve interviewed and told the stories of other adoptees.

But the more knowledge I gain — about adoption, about my country of origin, about the political and economic forces that likely contributed to my being sent to a foreign country at a mere 3 months of age — the more questions I have.

Last year, I gave birth to a daughter. She filled a void I couldn't articulate prior to that day. For 30 years, I lived with an absence of a history, of roots, of a biological connection to any other human being. Realizing my daughter has my hands, for example, was a profound experience. Her palms, her knuckles, her fingernails … they're just like mine. She scrunches her eyebrows like me. She is goofy and opinionated like me.

I know my daughter is different from me in at least as many ways as she is similar, and yet it amazes me to see myself in her — traits I now realize I inherited, not learned.

And that brings me to my current quest. To learn from whom we inherited our hands, our eyebrows, our personalities. To discover the boundaries of nature and nurture. To understand, truly, what circumstances brought me to here, to be raised by people with whom I never quite meshed.

There are more practical reasons, as well. The lack of a family history creates a hole in the medical records of not only me, but also my daughter. What genetic landmines lurk around the corner?

I have been in touch with Taiwan’s Child and Juvenile Adoption Center, created in 2005 to assist adoptees in finding answers. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to provide them enough detail to initiate a search for information overseas.

Prior requests for my adoption paperwork have been unsuccessful. My adoptive mother told me, “It’s all Chinese. You couldn’t read it anyway.” The orphanage that facilitated my adoption is more concerned with my spiritual salvation. I would prefer not to have to contact them again. The lawyer who served as my guardian ad litem said the records were lost due to water damage. (I pray he was referring to his own records; not this court’s.)

This letter serves as a formal request for the release of nonidentifying and identifying information, to the extent permitted by law. An original birth certificate with Chinese names would greatly assist the effort by the government office in Taiwan.

Thank you for your consideration.