to survive or thrive

I love gardening. I love waking up and walking outside to my suburban yard each morning and seeing what sprouted up overnight, checking if any tiny tender green leaves cut their way through my sandy South Jersey soil.


I’m an impatient gardener, though, getting down on my hands and knees several times a day, inspecting the dirt while the morning’s moisture seeps through the knees of my pants.

Recently and at my urging, my husband and I moved a knockout rose bush from our shady front yard to a super-sunny spot in the backyard, knowing it’d bloom tremendously with the sun’s uninterrupted light. In its previous location, it was a woody and awkward thing–bordering on an eyesore–producing only one or two tiny roses each season but never anything more.

It was surviving out front, sure. But was it thriving? No.

Any plant will survive in imperfect conditions, as long as it has the absolute minimum requirements to keep itself going. But if it’s a flowering species, it likely won’t offer blooms, only green leafy stems and foliage but never reaching its true potential.

Like that rose bush, many adoptees simply survive. We move forward using grit and adrenaline, pulling through abuse and racism and second-class status and hurt and loss, and we become functional adults with lives built on, again, survival.

But we’re not thriving.

I think about what happened with that rose bush and what happened to me and plenty of adoptees like me. Taken from uncertain circumstances in mysterious greenhouse incubators, plunked down in an environment offering life’s basics and maybe even a little “more,” yet still unable to reach our full potential. We fail to thrive. Or, using my gardening example, maybe we notice a struggling little patch of grass attempting to set seed, give it water, and walk away, wondering why isn’t it growing?

But this is what’s happening:

After we got my dog, after my husband attended therapy with me, and after I slowly discovered that what adoption and racism did to me wasn’t healthy, did I find myself just like the plants outside. Because when I was young, after growing not into the docile Asian daughter promised by the adoption agency, but instead a headstrong girl with her own personality, genetic code, and needs, I was transformed into my family’s ungrateful wench. The miserable bitch who started arguments with my parents and just couldn’t be happy.

My family was full of homecoming queens and prom kings and sports stars. I was anti-social, a bookworm, and hung out with losers (even though I had few friends). I frequently lost friends due to my jealousy and difficulty trusting people. None of this was attributed to adoption or my insecure attachments. Instead, it was my status as my family’s outcast that simply explained it all.

I was difficult, yes. But like many adoptees (especially transracial ones adopted in the early days), emphasis was placed on my problems being due to lack of gratitude and severe personality defects. None of it was attributed to my environment or stuff like this:

or this:

I’m not perfect. I absolutely had an attitude problem, but like my rose bush, in the wrong environment–even with the minimal requirements needed to live–an adoptee or wounded child won’t grow into a happy teen and contented adult.  For many years, I blamed myself for being different. I lashed out at anyone white, anyone thin, anyone better than me because there was always something wrong with meWithout understanding or compassion, there’s no way to safely move from survival mode to thriving. So we shift into fight mode, unable to take flight until we’re able to detach ourselves from that environment and rebuild our lives.

I don’t blame my family or my community. By stepping back and observing life’s strange landscapes, I’m able to see that we all had a responsibility to each other and somewhere, something failed us. And maybe that’s why I’ve spent years trying to perfect my plants. Seeing life take shape from my best efforts rewards me by providing a living metaphor for life.

I am so happy to have found support and space to thrive. Learning to trust this environment–one I’m building entirely on my own with a few special folks (and you) along the way–is terrifying. But my hope is that we all tell our stories and are given equal representation in the media and the safety to explore our histories. We aren’t perfect, but we aren’t to be shunned for our depression or rage or challenging behavior. No child deserves to be labeled by their own family, but as my time in my garden illustrates, thriving is possible once you find an environment that allows you to bloom.

and in other news: shithole countries

I am not a political person but recent events have forced my commentary on an astoundingly racist comment by – as I’m sure you know – President Donald Trump.

When I set out to write my book, I sought to uncover why an adoptive father with deeply prejudiced views would consider transracial adoption. I’m analyzing three distinct but intertwined histories: the American family, America’s anti-Asian sentiment, and, of course, the history of transracial adoption, all in an effort to explain otherwise inexplicable behavior.

But I never imagined that my country’s leader, a man describing predominantly poor and black nations as “shit holes,” would hasten my path to an answer.

And here it is:

Trump’s language is identical to my father’s, a man who’d use similar rhetoric to describe those same countries. And that superiority complex, I now realize, is what drives certain white men to determine who’s good enough to come to this country and live among their families, and who has to stay out.

Woeful bigots who transracially adopt might have complex motives rooted in what I continue to uncover, but never has an answer to a deeply complex question been presented to me with such appalling clarity. If racism trickles down from the top, then we have an even more complicated issue to address: How do we protect ourselves against forces so powerful and how can we prevent this from happening again?

For one, we cannot allow ignorant white men’s opinions to pit minorities against each other. It’s a vicious attempt to assign racial hierarchies among human beings. We need to view their commentary through a lens of insecurity and inferiority, the basic root of all immigrant-directed nativistic racism.

I hope that Trump’s comments unite people of all colors against such despicable language. I also hope that this event provokes immigrants to loudly tell their stories, so that we may continue documenting the struggles we encounter every single day.

Thanks, all of my readers, for letting me veer off the path a bit :). You mean the world to me!

Like this? Want more? So do I! Find out about my upcoming ventures on my Patreon page!

now you see me, but they don’t: invisible faces and races

Like many angsty teens, I wanted a chasm to open up and suck me in so I’d never have to face this cruel, cruel world anymore, but again, like many angsty teens, what I really wanted was as much attention as possible. I wanted someone to look at me and say “Yes, you are different and yes, you’re Asian. That’s cool. Now where’s that five dollars you owe me?”

What I received was the complete opposite. I heard “I see your face and it’s offensive and so freaking weird that it exists within your White family. Now let me ask you about it!” (These are called intrusive interactions and they’re as awkward as they sound.)

But something slightly disturbing happened whenever I’d complain about these unwanted behaviors; I’d be accused of imagining things, of being overly sensitive, of not humoring other people’s curiosity. Worse yet, I’d be told that it was something else about me, some indescribable flaw that made me a target. Evidently, “I’m going to kick your eyes straight!” and “Go back to your own country” have nothing to do with my appearance.

Eventually, my mother would tell me I dreamt these things up and that if they really were happening, I should just stop drawing so much attention to myself (leading me to pen a piece called Shut Up and Smile, in response to misplaced blame).

Her reaction – and society’s as a whole – to subtle forms of racism (aka racial microaggressions) is a quietly dangerous one, serving only to perpetuate the cycle of victim-blaming. The below video is an entertainingly informative few minutes of Derald Wing Sue’s definition of racial microaggressions, but the YouTube comments are perhaps the most telling status of America’s view of race.

I’ll save you the pain of reading through the comments; like everything on the internet, they’re filled with hate and racism and spew forth rage, accusing the professor of imagining things that aren’t really there, telling minorities to grow a thicker skin.

For the transracial adoptee, we need to be particularly sensitive to how racism is handled by both ourselves and our families.  While finding racism where it doesn’t exist isn’t helpful for anyone, transracial families should accept that overt acts of hate, like shouting slurs or getting beat up, exist alongside more slippery ones that evade quantification.

But there’s a solution. All forms of racism, such as colorblindness and hopeless commentary like this:

need to be considered, addressed, and handled. Directly. Be the awesome White parent who acknowledges your child’s race without the dreaded whitewash.

Vagaries like “hate for hate’s sake is bad” can be more effective if discussions include  specific topics like White privilege and the history of the child’s ethnic group in this country.  Admit to the color gap between you and your child; this isn’t an act of mercy or sacrifice or guilt-tripping, but one of empowerment for the future adult you are raising. Doing so will firmly cement your child in a position of security, because her status as a person of color will not be denied.

Celebrating color is not enough – we must concede that White parents and their transracial children will live vastly different lives based solely on race; we must embrace this truth as a starting point for weaving our developing values together. By starting this journey at home, parents have tremendous potential to positively influence their child’s racial identity.

Like this? Want more? So do I! Find out about my upcoming ventures on my Patreon page!