Last night, my husband and I joined about 180 folks from our city of Birmingham to view the documentary Somewhere in Between, a film that follows four Chinese girls adopted into American families. The movie articulates their challenges with feeling neither completely Chinese, nor totally American. The girls, now in their teens, conclude that they feel “somewhere in between.”
The film’s themes of belonging and identity are ones that everyone faces at some point in their life. But I can imagine the lack of knowledge most adoptive kids have about their background causes confusion and angst and even grief that many of us can never understand. Facing questions from peers about looking different from their parents and even some siblings may make some kids self-conscious.
It’s been interesting to see my oldest daughter adjust to her new life in America. She rather quickly changed her hairstyle and clothing to match the styles she observed at school and church. Over time, more and more English songs have popped up on her iTunes playlist which once consisted solely of Chinese artists. She even preferred to use a fork rather than chopsticks recently when eating Chinese food. I joked with her that she had become too “Americanized.”
If I were to ask Caroline today whether she felt more Chinese or American, I am pretty sure she’d still say Chinese. She continues to hold a number of beliefs and ideas that were taught in her native country. She still reads, speaks, and writes in Mandarin. And she enjoys keeping up with Chinese pop culture through watching Chinese TV shows and movies and downloading music by popular Chinese singers. In many ways, I think she still feels like a foreigner here.
Caroline will be almost 25 years old before she will have spent as much time living in America as she did in China. I expect it to take that long until she feels like she belongs in our country. But even then, I’m not sure I want her to feel completely American. I want her to hold onto her roots. I want her to love the country where she was born and partially raised. I want her to be confident in her Asian features despite being a minority and not looking anything like her fair-skinned, Auburn-haired mom or her very tall, brown-haired dad.
At the same time, I want her to feel like she’s been a part of our family since her birth. I want her to be proud of her adoption rather than self-conscious that she was once an orphan. I want her enjoy American traditions and appreciate our country’s history. I want her to feel like she belongs here and has a firm and secure place in society.
Realistically, she will experience emotions on both sides of the spectrum. In America, she will always stand out a bit with her Chinese accent. When she returns to China for visits, she will no longer appear as a local. Which ultimately means that she’ll feel “somewhere in between” a Chinese and an American. And it’s that tension of not quite knowing where you stand that leads to an identity crisis. Those overwhelming questions of Who am I? Where do I fit in? Why I am here? Why do I feel different? will be issues that all of our adopted kids will likely wrestle with.
To be honest, I feel ill-equipped to help my daughter sort through these questions. I suppose I’ll encourage her to set aside concerns over being Chinese or American and to focus instead on other aspects of her life that define her. To look at her talents, gifts, and roles.
She is a graceful dancer.
She is gifted piano and flute player.
She is a loyal friend.
She is a loving sister.
She is a beloved child of God.
She is a servant in her community.
She is a beautiful young woman.
And maybe, just maybe, she will find comfort in the fact that every one of us searches inside to determine where we fit in. It’s important to determine who we are and even who we want to be.
And I pray any crisis during that process will lead my adopted daughters to value the unique journeys they have taken to become who they are today. Our kids’ stories have impacted and touched more people than they ever could imagine.