Monday, October 29, 2012

What's in a name?

Oct. 17, 2012

I was so excited to read about chops and calligraphy. When we go to Taiwan, I definitely want to get a chop made. I would also love to learn how to write my original Chinese name. I don’t even know how to type it.

I have always been OK with my first name. But I’ve always hated my middle name — it seems too stuffy and European for a Taiwanese baby. I can’t imagine why my adoptive parents chose it.

When I married, I considered changing my middle name to my original Chinese surname, Lin. But I chickened out because at that time, and even now, I was not sure what that name meant to me. I couldn’t really feel a connection to it, either.

Given my adoption and history with my adoptive family, you can probably understand why I couldn’t wait to lose my maiden name. It was a name I had no connection to, or so I thought. But I remember being surprised at my emotional reaction seeing my married name on paper. It didn’t look or feel like me, either. Eight years later, I am more comfortable with it.

Some Taiwanese have told me my Chinese name is pretty. It will be neat to explore it further.

Race and ethnicity

Oct. 3, 2012

Reading about yin and yang reminds me of the balance I need to find in my own life. Becoming a mother threw all of my roles out of balance — wife, sister, friend, professional. But the biggest challenge is internal. It’s a lack of balance between my small self and my big self, my emotions and thoughts, my inner child and outer adult. Some days I feel I know neither who I am, nor who I really want to be.

I looked up Richard Lee, and I searched the library online to find a handful of his research papers. So far, the most informative is a 2003 article from the journal The Counseling Psychologist, “The Transracial Adoption Paradox: History, Research, and Counseling Implications of Cultural Socialization.” It is 35 pages, and I’ve only gotten a third the way through it.

Cultural Socialization in Families with International Adopted Children” (Journal of Family Psychology, 2006, Vo. 20, No. 4) was also interesting and helped me answer a question someone posed Sunday. I can’t remember her exact phrasing, but she essentially asked why I am still interested in Taiwan. The question surprised me. I think I said something about how I wanted to learn about the country of my birth. But it got me thinking, why do I care about it?

A few statements in Lee’s second article grabbed my attention:

1) “McRoy and Zurcher (1983 … observed that White adoptive parents of African American children who were color-blind (i.e. did not perceive racial differences and racism as salient issues) were less likely to live in racially integrated neighborhoods and to make an effort at teaching their adopted child about what it means to grow up as Black in the United States.”

2) “Enculturation refers to both the belief in and practice of promoting ethnicity-specific experiences that encourage the development of a positive ethnic identity, which has been found to serve as a protective factor against racism and discrimination (R. M. Lee, 2005).

3) “… racialization refers to both the belief in and practice of promoting race-specific experiences that help children develop coping skills to protect them from racism and discrimination (Crocker & Major, 1989.)”

The impact of growing up without a positive ethnic or racial identity lingers. It seems quite obvious to see that on paper, and yet I don’t think I grasped until now how learning about the country and culture of my race helps overcome my own negativity toward it. It’s hard to acknowledge the negativity I have felt, off and on — it’s a reminder of racism I’ve personally experienced, and I feel ashamed of my own prejudice. Knowledge of Taiwan is knowledge of myself. Pride in Taiwan is pride in myself.

Taiwan on the mind

Sept. 26, 2012

It was nice to hear from native Taiwanese about the country and culture. The only frustration for me (and surely for them also) is the language. Communication is so important for me — something that’s come naturally, and then been honed through my education and work experience. So to not be able to feel I’m being understood completely, and to not fully understand what someone is trying to tell me, is incredibly frustrating. Both of our cultures convey much through nonverbal communication. It’s as much how a person says something as the actual words they say. And even English words have multiple meanings — explicit and implied — just like Mandarin sounds have multiple tones. Sometimes take for granted how much we communicate beyond words. Experiences like this make me appreciate my ability to communicate clearly.

This may sound shallow, but I’m really looking forward to the food aspect of our trip. Despite different tastes, there’s something universal about the experience of enjoying a good meal. Maybe I was born with an Asian palate — I have always loved soy sauce and vinegar, salty and sour flavors. I would gladly pass on pastries for an extra helping of salt-and-vinegar chips! I’ve also always preferred rice and tofu to pasta or bread. The only part I’m nervous about is unfamiliar proteins. I grew up on a small farm, so I know where meat comes from, but I don’t enjoy being reminded of that. Today, I prefer my meat rendered unrecognizable from the source! It will be helpful to know in advance if the night markets will have whole chickens hanging for sale, or if our fish will be served fully intact. Just so I can be prepared.

Once adopted, forever a child

Sept. 19, 2012

I’m trying so hard to keep my mind open to exploring and understanding this different culture, but I feel my brain shutting down. I’m trying to wrap my head around how to understand Taiwanese culture without comparing it to what I know, but I can’t break through. Perhaps it’s mental exhaustion, or emotional wariness, or some combination.

This week has been tough. Throughout my life, there have been people who have hurt me in various ways — directly and indirectly. To get to a safe and stable place today, I have ceased contact with those individuals and people connected with them.

Friday, one of those individuals attempted to email me. Since they did not have any personal contact information for me (by design!), they instead emailed my boss. My boss then printed the email and called me into her office to sit down and discuss what is an immensely personal and private topic.

I am so frustrated and tired and confused. I feel violated. These people who it seems had no care in the past for my physical and emotional well-being now also seem to have no respect for my professional reputation. My mind knows this is an unfair statement — their intentions in the past were good, despite the consequences to me — but my heart feels so hurt and hardened toward them.

This is very difficult, and I have a choice to make. When we travel to Taiwan, do I wish to reach out to them? Or, do I keep that door closed? This individual may be able to answer some of the questions that I have, but at what cost? Which culture’s rules must I follow? An individual-oriented culture that tells me I owe no one anything, that I have a right to personal information and no obligation to provide anything in return? Or a socially-oriented culture that requires a tit for a tat, by whose rules I must earn the privilege to information? Do I really want to open Pandora’s box, anyway?

When we talk about culture and values, all I see are rules that were designed to control a society — to keep the masses in line, to uphold the power of the ruling class. China has one of the longest sustained cultures, and surely that is creditable to its socially-oriented, collectivist values.

The rules of adoption have been set primarily by adoptive parents and adoption agencies. Money always has, and always will, equal power. Even though I am now an adult, when it comes to my adoption, I am permanently treated as a powerless child. Rules prevent me from disturbing the adults who are responsible for my past. “Children should be seen, not heard,” my mother would say. Even today, no one wants to hear me. The rules are designed to prevent me from calling out the grown-ups who were supposed to protect, not harm me. They keep me silent because I am dependent on them for even basic information about the circumstances of my origin. U.S. laws restrict information under the guise of protecting someone else’s privacy. Taiwanese culture restricts my ability to claim by figurative force knowledge that should be mine. Pride prevents me from seeking information from people I would rather pretend did not exist. I am Dorothy, caught in an emotional tornado, wishing to be home. Except I’m not exactly sure where home is.

Quid pro quo

Sept. 12, 2012

I’ll admit, I’m having a little trouble focusing this past week. My excitement about committing to travel to Taiwan is tempered by nervousness (internal) and work pressure (external). The Serenity Prayer has been my mantra.

The idea of guanxi seems similar to building and maintaining social/political capital in the U.S., although I understand it runs much deeper in Taiwanese culture. Personally, I find this type of maneuvering and keeping track of favors exhausting. I don’t have time for high-maintenance relationships in my personal life. But at work, I often have to deal with them. My work setting, in particular, seems so political, I think in part because of the small community from which it draws its workforce. Everybody knows everybody, and so many people have worked together so long, I sometimes feel I’m being punished for the sins of bosses before me.

Reading about other Taiwanese traditions also reminds me of interactions with a Taiwanese friend’s husband. Both were Taiwan-born and emigrated with their families — she at age 5; he in his teens, I believe. When we used to go out to dinner with them, there was always competition for payment, which my husband found frustrating. He preferred to go Dutch so we never had to keep track of who owed whom what and when. I also remember how different my friend’s wedding was — her husband seemed so material-focused (how much would guests give them), but in hindsight, perhaps it was more of a cultural difference than greed. Their wedding was beautiful, incorporating Chinese elements and American ones. I remember climbing narrow stairs in the bride’s aunt and uncle’s house to a tiny finished attic in order for the bride and groom to pay respects to their ancestors. I also observed a tea ceremony in which the bride served her new in-laws. The bride wore a traditional white wedding gown for the ceremony, but she changed into a traditional Chinese red dress for the first part of the reception. She later changed into a third (more comfortable) dress for dancing.

Nature and nurture

Sept. 5, 2012

Last Thursday, I sat in meeting with two 20-somethings, a handful of Gen X-ers and a couple dozen Baby Boomers eager for the presenter to shed light on the mysterious generation that has been named “The Millennials.” Interestingly, the “Strawberry Generation” overlaps the U.S. definition of Millennials.

As a Gen X-er with Millennial sympathies, I find irony in some of the criticisms of the younger generation. “Lack of experience,” “overconfidence” and “questioning authority” seem like characteristics that could be attributed to youth of any generation. (If the ’60s wasn’t a time of questioning authority in the U.S., I don’t know what was! And what was the Roaring Twenties about?) Both Millennials and Strawberry Generation youth are said to have been overpampered by their parents — so it seems Boomers and Gen X-ers should share the blame in creating such an entitled generation.

I was also fascinated with the reading on Chinese personality research, particularly K.S. Yang’s theory of social orientation. I have always been aware of other people’s opinions and thoughts and highly motivated by feedback from authoritative figures — teachers and bosses, primarily. In both education and work settings, my desire to please others through accomplishments has often been misinterpreted as self motivation. It has also resulted in me sometimes feeling like an imposter — like I’m living someone else’s life.

Asian-American females have high suicide rates, and one researcher (Eliza Noh) has attributed it to expectations and family pressure. She calls this “model minority” pressure. But I have often wondered if there are some inborn personality traits at play, as well. Influenced by cultural forces, have we been, essentially, bred to be a certain way? And what happens when the world changes around us, when the rules change? How do we leverage those personality traits to succeed in a new culture?

A new opportunity

Aug. 27, 2012

This year, I renewed my effort to fill the gap in my — and now also my daughter’s — personal history and identity. At first, I sought specific information about the circumstances surrounding my adoption. But as those paths have dried up, I am beginning to realize that what I am really seeking is a sense of belonging, some primal connection. I have long wanted to visit Taiwan, but I have also long been wary of the emotional and economic costs. Perhaps this course will give me the confidence to pursue the answers my soul seeks. Or perhaps, by reinforcing the contrast between the culture of my homeland and the culture of my life, it will solidify my American identity.

I am grateful for the opportunity to find out.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Missing pieces

From the Department of Family Services Children's Division
RE: Birth parent search ordered on February 3, 2012

Italics indicate identifying information retracted to protect the guilty innocent
[Brackets indicate identifying information retracted by DFS per U.S. law]

A girl was born ... in Taiwan on 05/05/1980. She was born to a single, unmarried woman [name retracted], who was residing at [address retracted]. The records indicate that [name retracted] affirmed that a girl was born prior to her marriage with the understanding that the natural father is unknown. A girl weighed 7 pounds when she was born. [Name retracted] gave a girl to an orphanage ... when a girl was three weeks old. ... [Name retracted] relinquished her rights on 06/10/1980. Adoptive parents who had made application with the orphanage prior, were contacted and a girl was adopted by them, in Taiwan, on 07/07/1980. Adoptive mother picked up a girl in Los Angeles at the airport on 08/16/80. On 05/14/1981 the ... Division of Family Services were ordered to do a statutory investigation for the adoption proceedings in the ... Circuit Court (a girl's note: my local social services contact is not sure why it took them so long to approach the U.S. court). There was an initial home study completed by a social worker on 07/01/1980, but an update was requested by the court and submitted on 06/05/1981 (because the first social worker was a family friend, the court would not accept the first home study). The court did not waive the 9-month supervisory period was was requested by the adopted parents' attorney, and the adoption was finalized in the Boone County Circuit Court on 09/27/1982.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Happy birthday to me

May 1, 2012

"Greetings from Taiwan.

"We searched your birth mother’s information from the household system, the household system could only provide the address, and we sent few letter to that address, but there was no response at all.

"In this case, it could be that your birthmother doesn’t live in the address which she registers in the household system. Or she does live there, but she is not ready to contact with us.

"In Taiwan, if the birth parents decided to put their child in adoption, they will choose not to contact in the future. One of the reasons is that they feel guilty about their decision, and they think that they didn’t raise the child which makes them have no right to follow up the child.

"I’m not sure why there have no responses from your birth family, but I do like to know your thoughts about the next step. If you like to quit this reunion or you have any other ideas. Please tell me your view."


Jan. 24, 2012

While trolling the interwebs yesterday, I came across the blog of a woman who volunteered at the orphanage where I lived prior to my adoption. She actually used the term "unwanted children," which made my heart and mind churn.

I have spent enough of my life feeling unwanted. Do I need some self-righteous 20-something-year-old girl to confirm that?

Les Misérables

"In my life, there are so many questions and answers that somehow seem wrong." So sings Jean Valjean's adopted daughter, Cosette, in the musical Les Miserables.

I've been listening to Les Mis soundtracks for weeks in preparation for finally seeing the musical live. But it only struck me this morning how much I relate to those specific lyrics.

Cosette continues: "In my life, there are times when I catch in the silence the sigh of a faraway song. And it sings of a world that I long to see. Out of reach, just a whisper away, waiting for me."

In just 10 weeks I will embark for that world that has haunted me all my life. Tickets are booked and paid for. There's no turning back.

It's been several months since I last posted to this blog. In that time, I stopped writing. Spiraled into the second-deepest depression of my life. Found a therapist. Was convinced to go on medication, something I miraculously managed to avoid until this year. Joined a class of (ironically) counselors preparing to travel to Taiwan. Started writing again. And was invited to accompany the shrinks to Taiwan in January.

Over the next few days, I'll post the journal entries I've kept private until now. And I hope to be brave enough to keep posting here as an outlet and a way to share my journey with others who may be going through the same thing. It's been selfish of me to devour other people's stories and be so unwilling to share my own. This blog is my inspiration. Thanks for reading.