Shedding light on the Asian adoptee experience

Asian adoptees are part and parcel of the North American story. Here are some resources to begin the conversation for national adoption awareness month.

Resources for national adoption awareness month

This month, we celebrate Asian adoptees – their voices and identities – as part of the Asian North American story through resources for National Adoption Awareness Month.

“I honestly don’t feel Chinese,” says Sadie Mangelsdorf, a seventeen-year-old Asian adoptee living in Nashville. “I’ve just always identified myself as an American.”

In the Netflix documentary, Found, Sadie discovers her blood-related cousins, Chloe Lipitz and Lily Bolka through a 23andMe DNA test. After bonding over their shared adoptee experience and ancestry, the three teenagers embarked on a journey to China to uncover their past.

Sadie was adopted by her white parents as an infant from an orphanage in Guangzhou, China. Like many transracial adoptees, she faces racial and ethnic complexities when navigating her identity.

HISTORY OF ASIAN TRANSNATIONAL ADOPTIONS

Currently in the US, according to Pew Research, South Korea and China are among the top countries where Asian adoptees were born. The steep rise in numbers stemmed from specific historical events.

The surge of Korean transnational adoptions in the United States began after the Korean War, as a way to find homes for the mixed-race children of American servicemen who served in South Korea. 

Due to societal pressures, mothers faced the stigma of giving birth out of wedlock and raising children as single parents.

Two overlapped passport photos of Chinese adoptees.
Photo Credit: Netflix Media Center

Between 1970 to 2015, China enforced a “one-child policy” to control its population growth.  In a traditional patriarchal society, the policy led to a preference for males and more females being given up for adoption.  

To date, estimates say that over 150,000 Chinese children, mostly girls, were given up and adopted overseas.

Even though many children found homes in the US, they were not granted automatic US citizenship upon adoption. Now as adults, many of them are at risk of being deported, because their adoptive parents failed to complete the necessary paperwork upon adoption.

To protect adoptee rights and amend this legal loophole, the Adoption Citizenship Act 2021 has been introduced to the US House of Commons with the support of advocates and political sponsors and is currently under review. 

Learn how you can get involved

LIFE-LONG JOURNEY OF IDENTITY

What happens after the baby goes home with their new family? The life-long impacts and challenges that the adoptees and their families work through are not often talked about. This is especially true in the context of interracial or transnational adoption. 

“The whole process of adoption – it’s grieving,” Lily’s adoptive mom says. “They have to come to a point where they can grieve what they’ve lost.”

Some studies have shown how the separation from one’s birth mother can be a form of trauma. The loss, even as an infant, can have enduring effects on one’s identity development.

Transracial adoptees grapple with the duality of being a racial minority and being adopted as a member of the majority white community. Depending on the exposure to their culture of origin, they may struggle with their racial and cultural self-identity.

In the documentary, the girls meet individually with Liu Hao, a Beijing-based genealogy researcher, who asks what they hope to gain from the trip to China. Whereas Lily does not hesitate to tell Liu that she wants to find her birth parents, Chloe, on the other hand, is less interested in this option. She is much more invested in visiting the place she was discovered and connecting with the culture, deciding to take Mandarin classes upon her return.

Found Documentary main vertical poster with the three girls faces.
Photo Credit: Netflix Media Center

Everyone’s experience with adoption is unique. Every adoptee will have a different way of relating to their culture and will go at their own pace.

Here are some more resources for national adoption awareness month, ranging from books, podcasts, articles, influencers, and more. 

MORE RESOURCES FOR NATIONAL ADOPTION AWARENESS MONTH 

FILMS

Twinsters directed by Samantha Futerman and Ryan Miyamoto

Based on Samantha’s story, the twin sisters are reunited online after being separated at birth. They explore their cultural roots in South Korea and discover a global network of Korean adoptees.

Aka Dan directed by Jon Maxwell

Alternative rapper and Korean American adoptee Dan Matthews reconnects with his biological family in South Korea, including a twin brother he never knew he had. 

In the matter of Cha Jung Hee Directed by Deann Borshay

An eight-year old girl takes on the identity of Cha Jung Hee and arrives in the US as a Korean adoptee. The filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem returns to her home land to find the mysterious girl whose place she took, while examining the ethics of international adoptions.

For more films about the adoptee experience, see list curated by Harlow’s Monkey.

ARTICLES & WEBSITES

How the rise of anti-Asian racism made an adoptee feel more asian
Abby Rodgers, a Korean adoptee, shares how she developed a stronger sense of racial identity by speaking out about anti-Asian racism.

Hustle and Heart: The Lee Shorten Story
Born in Korea and adopted by Caucasian-Australian parents, Lee Shorten talks to Cold Tea Collective about leaving his law career in Australia to pursue acting in Canada and landing non-ethnically-specific roles as an Asian actor.

Leah Lewis: On learning about her culture as an adoptee
An actress and a Chinese adoptee, Leah Lewis discovered a deeper connection to her culture through portraying a Chinese LGBTQ youth in The Half of It.

Harlow’s Monkey
JaeRan Kim – writer, blogger, teacher and Korean adoptee – takes an unapologetic look at the transnational transracial adoptee experience.

SOCIAL MEDIA

The ADOPTEE Project

The historical context of international adoption serves as a backdrop for understanding the adoption experience. Both on their own adoption journeys, Patrick & Makayla hope to help other adult adoptees unpack their traumas and understand their collective history.

KatieTheKAD [강소영]

A Korean Adoptee from Louisville, Katie has created a safe online community for adult adoptees to gather and have honest discussions around transracial, transnational adoptee identity. She also  hosts weekly virtual adoptee support. Find out more at her website.

Patrick Samuel Yung Armstrong, Originally 김영진

Patrick is a Korean American adoptee and co-host of The Janchi Show, a podcast for Korean Adoptees. He shares his personal experiences as an adoptee as well as a deep dive into international adoption.

PODCASTS

Adopted Feels Podcast
Join in on the real talk with your Korean adoptee besties! Located in Melbourne, Australia, Hana and Ryan get together and talk about everything adoption related, including race, gender, birth family search and reunion. 

ASAC Podcast: A Project of the Alliance for the Study of Adoption & Culture
Monthly interviews with scholars, artists, activists, and other participants in adoption studies.

Adapted
Kaomi Goetz explores the experiences of Korean adoptees, from post-reunion stories, living in Korea as adults, identity and belonging and mo

Books

All You Can Ever Know By Nicole Chung

This memoir follows Chung, a Korean adoptee from Oregon, as she searches for her birth parents while expecting a child of her own. This memoir was named the Best Book of the Year by nearly two-dozen media outlets, including The Washington Post, NPR, and Time.

Once They Hear My Name By Ellen Lee, Marilyn Lammert, and Mary Anne Hess

A collection of oral histories from nine Korean American adoptees that reflect the issues of identity, alienation and family many adoptive parents and adoptees struggle with.

Lucky Girl By Mei-Ling Hopgood

In her twenties, Journalist Mei-Ling Hopgood is surprised by a request for a reunion from her Taiwnese birth parents, bringing her back to her home country. 

The Language of Blood By Jane Jeong Trenka

Jane Trenka, also known as Jeong Kyong-Ah, recounts her childhood in a homogenous White community and her close encounters with a stalker that compelled her to reexamine her identity and defy stereotypes of Asian girls.

ORGANIZATIONS

In USA

Adoptees for Justice
Adoptee-led organization advocating for an inclusive Adoptee Citizenship Act. They are the creators of The Adoptees Without Citizenship Story Collection aimed at sharing personal experiences of those directly impacted.

Adoption Museum
Through exhibits and museum projects, AMP is making space for the whole story of adoption.  Learn more about the history of Adoptee Citizenship in the US through this great handout.

Asian Adult Adoptees of Washington (AAAW)
An Asian/Pacific Islander adoptee community offering mentorship program for youth, educational opportunities and allyship to adoptees of different nationalities and communities

In Canada

Asian Adoptees of Canada
Network & online community of Asian adoptees that supports and empowers each other through events and networking with an online community that hosts a weekly dialogue called “Chat of the Week.”

FINDING FAMILY AND BELONGING

Like Sadie, Chloe, and Lily, some adoptees choose to take a trip to their homeland in order to bring them closer to their roots and to build a stronger sense of self and belonging.  

This journey is an intense and emotional process for both the adoptee and their family. However, a strong support network provides a safety net to unpack and grow from the experience in a positive and healthy way.

“I’m happy we’re going through it with Sadie and Lily because we all have each other,” Chloe says. “I haven’t known them for long, but there’s just unconditional things. You just know they know how you feel. You don’t even have to explain it to them.”

Adoptive families are examples that deep bonds are formed out of love and genuine connection. As Sadie puts it, “family are the people who know, love and accept me for who I am.”

Sadie, Lily, and Cloe sit on a wall and face the mountainside in rural China.
Photo Credit: Netflix Media Center

By illuminating the experiences of Asian adoptees, as a community, we can provide more inclusive and meaningful support to adoptees and their families. After all, we are one big Asian North American family.

Jon Maxwell, director of aka Dan and himself a Korean adoptee says “Adoption simply adds another barrier in this process [of creating our identity]. My hope is that everyone can relate to this story whether or not you are adopted, or even Asian. The search for identity is within us all.”

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