Today, I’m being inspired by another adoptee again. Elle Cuardaigh wrote about ancestry and adoption. I’m going to try.
In 2010, I was a “special” census taker, one of the people who did six months of follow up questions for the American Community Survey, which is more in depth than the regular census that we try to get everyone to fill out. I was thrilled. As an historian, I love the census. It is a treasure trove of bizarre and interesting information about who lived and how in a certain year. It also tells us tons about what we, as a country, considered important enough to count. Race and the census is a whole college class of interesting.
In 2010, I was still adopted, but I was not searching yet and was not in reunion. Things were very different for me then.
In 2010, I didn’t know how different my life was about to get.
I was raised in a family of Irish extraction with a corresponding family name. I was raised Irish-American, and it’s somewhat believable by looks alone. Had I stayed with my first mother, I would have been raised with the Chinese last name that is on my birth certificate.
I still don’t know what to make of all this. I’ve done what I always do when encountering something I don’t really know what to do with — I read about it. I’ve sought out and read books about the Chinese-Americans of my great-grandfather’s generation, about their history in the US and why they came here.
I have a family history. I feel like I’ve said this before, but my adoptive parents’ histories and my adoptive maternal grandparents’ stories feel like they do relate to me — I know/knew these four people, along with my adoptive brother, and they were my immediate family. They ARE my family.
But I have a much harder time connecting to the ancestry of my adoptive parents. Not on an intellectual level, but on a gut level. My great-grandfather who came to this country from China, his story is part of mine. It’s his family name on my original birth certificate.
I lost that name, that connection, and the history that goes with it. My original birth certificate has been written over and is no longer considered legal. I don’t really know what to say about this other than I feel that loss deeply.
As someone who was likely be raised in the US midwest no matter what happened, my adoption changed some pretty minor details in the natural course of my life. Knowing how “minor” those don’t feel, I am awed by the strength and resilience of my fellow adoptees who lost countries, cultures, and were permanently othered by appearance alone. I am floored by the adoptees who have formed families and had children knowing about this gap in their roots. I am amazed, every day, at how many of us jump that canyon and persist in living, in searching, in connecting with one another, despite the loss, despite the trauma, despite it all.