Confessions from a Chinese-American Adoptee

As a Chinese-American adoptee into a Irish-American family of people with the last names O’Connor, Collins, and Miller, I have struggled with my racial and ethnic identity throughout my whole life. My predominantly white suburb sheltered me growing up, and the K-12 schools I attended reinforced this bubble. I have experienced, and continue to experience, covert and often subtle racism. However, these interpersonal microaggressions and ignorant comments from classmates and peers never really affected me (or so I thought). Recently, the ongoing pandemic and associated anti-Asian violence that has come as a result of it have damaged my mental health and sense of self. I find that I cannot find the words to describe how I am feeling in regards to the Asian elders who are being attacked or the rise in sinophobia (anti-Chinese sentiment) in general. Accordingly, I have struggled with the idea that I am perceived as a perpetual “other” and even a disease in the eyes of those around me.

 

For me, a sense of belonging has always felt missing, and attending a predominantly white institution for college has truthfully made it harder. I am surrounded by people with last names beginning with “O’” and “Mc” and other varieties of Irish Roman Catholic names. While I grew up in predominantly white settings, I still tend to feel unseen. I want to share one of the only times I felt like I somewhat belonged: I traveled to Taiwan in March of 2019. In Taichung, Taiwan, I lived with a host-family, and was able to fully immerse myself in the Mandarin language and lifestyle. Needless to say, the two weeks I spent in Taiwan allowed me to learn so much more about a culture I previously knew little about. My host student was my age, and allowed me to join her circle of friends for the two weeks of my stay. Although I am not fluent and I did not always feel within my comfort zone, this was the first time I felt like a part of the majority in a social setting. I was not an anomaly to the students here, like the other (all white) students from my high school who were also on the trip. I knew that this experience would stick with me forever because this sense of belonging was a rarity. I acknowledge that Taiwanese culture is not the same as Chinese culture, but it is the closest I have come to experiencing a culture of my place of origin. 

 

Luckily for me, I am a member of the Asian students’ organization on my campus, which has allowed me to grow tremendously and create a sense of community. But, even in a safe and inclusive environment such as this organization, I find myself struggling to make sense of my identity. I never grew up with cultural celebrations or family traditions beyond meat and potatoes. So while I try to make sense of the duality of my identity, I am also trying to process my emotions that have come up due to the rise in anti-Chinese and anti-Asian racism. There is no real conclusion or “so what” of this beyond me sharing the identity conflicts I have and the various emotions surrounding that.