On Being Adoptee, Part 2: "On Becoming Adoptee"


Editor's Note: Coinciding with Multi's Compass: Navigating Multiness Conference,"On Being Adoptee" is a three-part series dedicated to bringing light to the experiences of transracial adoptees at Swarthmore and around the world. Part 1 can be accessed here. Part 3 can be accessed here.

A Preface to the Series “On Being Adoptee”

As three seniors preparing to graduate we want to give testament to our experiences as transracial adoptees at Swarthmore, and in the world. We write for ourselves and for our fellow adoptees. We write to bring to the forefront of Swarthmore’s collective imaginary the importance and reality of our mixed race experiences. Together we bring Chinese and Guatemalan heritage, calling Delaware, Connecticut and Massachusetts home. We are Italian, Scottish, Hungarian, Jewish, German, Irish, Catholic, Lithuanian, and “American.” We have gone to private and public schools, we have traveled the world; we are athlete, poet, photographer, dancer, actor, artist. We study science, humanities, and social science. We are queer, we are womxn, we are man. We are not quite all, but we are multitudes. We are adoptees.

Our stories have something to offer to commonly accepted understandings of race, ethnicity, nationality, and the family. In our lives the nuances, complexities and confusion of race are revealed. Notice how our stories intersect, overlap, and diverge.We intentionally seek to bring a critical lens to international adoption, interrogating the relationships between domestic and international adoption, kinship, capitalism, and historical heteropatriarchal forces among others. Hear how we bring in the personal, the political and learn from us. We hope to renegotiate and critique the meaning of “White” or “Person/Womxn of Color.” In telling our own stories we provide perspectives that are knowingly controversial and often unheard. From the vulnerabilities of ourselves we want to call forward a reflexivity from you, reading this, to question the more general power of origin myth, of family cultivation and recognize universal processes of identity construction. We present you with three perspectives on transracial adoption, specifically choosing not to produce a singular publication. The purpose of these pieces is for you to listen. These are pieces of ourselves, to be understood in conversation with each other, but to remain respected on their own.

We want this to be a start, an opening into a conversation we’ve been having amongst ourselves for the past four years. Understand that we don’t come to this publication lightly. We ground ourselves in intention using this as a starting point to further collect and cultivate a better Swarthmore on the forefront of including, validating, voicing and exploring the transracial adoptee experience all too often forgotten, erased or pathologized in the monoracial fabric of our lives.

Part 2

On Becoming Adoptee

By Casey Lu Simon-Plumb

Casey Lu Simon-Plumb and family in front of a Sukkah (a traditional Jewish Structure constructed during Sukkot). 

Casey Lu Simon-Plumb and family in front of a Sukkah (a traditional Jewish Structure constructed during Sukkot). 

It feels like for most people, most days, there are not so many barriers to becoming, people just are. Yet, as an adoptee, especially as a Chinese adoptee, I have felt so many reasons to hesitate before claiming a racial/ethnic space. It has been difficult, to say the least, to find an identity that feels both authentic and reflective.

The pain of being an adoptee is layered and complicated. It contrasts the more familiar journey of a racial minority found in (1) coming  to understand and embrace the racialized self, (2) recognizing and subsequently rejecting a history of oppression, a history of “othering,” and (3) creating alternative narratives to grow into. Instead an adoptee must constantly unlearn and reconstruct the self. It is painful to re-member the very stories - the ones that we used for protection, for survival; the accounting told by others, but also by ourselves, saying that in this life we were chosen, we were lucky, we escaped otherwise devastating futures of pain, suffering and poverty - it is difficult to admit these stories may not be true and painstaking to realize good intentions may not redeem them still.

The duality of my life is found in the irreconcilable truths of both “I love and am thankful for my parents” and “my parents are part of problematic systems that both enabled and fueled a specific, constructed desire for me.” It makes it difficult to locate my self, my individual identity, among the shadows of global capitalism, racism, and heteropatriarchy that arc over my existence. How can I claim Chinese heritage when this connection is so far removed from the memory of self I have known and become? How can I claim Whiteness when my experiences as a racialized body and subject yellows my life? How do I claim a political person / womxn of color identity when “Asian” is not readily located in the hierarchy of oppression nor necessarily included in projects of collective liberation and my authenticity in this identity is scrutinized as it is?

The struggle of being both / neither is especially pronounced for the transracial adoptee, especially in college when a defense of the self is constantly asked for. Multiraciality has been the only semblance of racial home I have ever felt. Finally, people who heard my own struggle of never feeling enough and felt resonance in their own experiences. Finally, people who understood what it is like to not look like the rest of your family, to know racism within your own family, to have cultural amnesia despite carrying deep cultural histories in my skin every day. How incredible to find other adoptees, an identity whose only clue to its existence are the very words “I am adopted.”

I love being an adoptee, even on days when it is work to embrace the truths that this identity bring. And yet, even after four years, even when you find who you are, when you’ve fought to become who you are, how easily they forget. So quick is the dismissal that you are not. So swiftly you are left off the page, excuses easier to speak than the truth that you are just not memorable. So it goes. The painful perpetuation that your reality isn’t existence enough for them. That the depth of your history, the histories of your people, the transracial adoptees, can still be drown out by the roar of monoracial politics.

Listen to me.

I am not Rachel Dolezal. I am not confused about my racial identity. I am not conflating culture and race. I am a self that complicates our heuristic of phenotype + heritage = race. I am a self that reveals the social construction of race, that falls through the cracks from the way we use race as a modern tool to understand and reconcile history and oppression. I am a self who constantly feels the weight of emotional labor because “racial solidarity” and “community” are too often either nonexistent or superficial for the adoptee.

I know who I am.

I am multiracial in that I am both fractured among, but also wholly White, Chinese, and adoptee. I am a transracial adoptee in that my racialized self moves between White and Chinese families. I am a self that is enriched by and that enriches the community of multiraciality. I am myself, and have worked hard to have my adoptee identity recognized and respected.

I used to say “I’m adopted,” but now I say “I am an adoptee.” Adoption is not merely something that happened to me. Its impact on my life, on my identity, and on my experiences cannot be trapped in such a singularity.

I am a transracial Chinese adoptee. I go by many names and many identities, but when I say I am a transracial adoptee, that my existence can no longer be denied, hear me.