photo’s taken in November 2015
Hi, my name is Rose Qiao. I was adopted from WuHan, China, in 2001 when I was one year old. My mother and my aunt went to China together and each adopted a little girl of the same age, and we all live under the same roof. My cousin and I were brought back to America and we now live in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois.
Terry Hong is a writer and arts consultant, specializing in books, theater, and film. She created and maintains Smithsonian BookDragon, a multicultural book review blog for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, where she served as the media arts consultant for eight years. She is currently an Advisor for 10×10: Educate Girls, Change the World, a global action campaign highlighting girls’ education; she served as the Literary Coordinator for the groundbreaking film, Girl Rising. Other selected projects include a literary journal, curating public programs for the Smithsonian, Library of Congress, and numerous conferences. She taught for two years in Duke University’s Leadership in the Arts, a New York City-based performance and public policy program. She co-authored two books, Eastern Standard Time: A Guide to Asian Influence on American Culture from Astro Boy to Zen Buddhism and What Do I Read Next? Multicultural Literature; other publication credits include Christian Science Monitor, Library Journal, New York Times, Washington Post. She holds degrees from Dartmouth College and Yale University.
“Who Am I?”
Decades ago – oooh, I feel so old! – I was an undergraduate at a small college amidst the granite hills of New Hampshire. I’d had enough of the great outdoors. I was bored with the endless frat parties (even if Animal House originated at my alma mater). And I was feeling rather homesick for Mommy and Daddy, and even my annoying little brothers, not to mention some really good kimchi! Hanover, back in the day, didn’t even have a Chinese restaurant! What all-American hole-in-the-wall little town doesn’t have at least ONE Chinese takeaway? I was truly stuck out in the styx!
Needing to get beyond my own petty woes, something took me through the doors of the college’s community outreach office. I made a beeline for the Big Brother/Big Sister Program. That very week, the office had received a telephone call specifically requesting a Korean female student for a little girl named Sarah. Undoubtedly, this was fate.
Sarah is a Korean adoptee. She arrived as an infant on an airplane to become the first daughter of a loving, childless couple living in the Upper Valley of Vermont. Eventually, Sarah’s family would grow to include a brother and sister – they would arrive via the stork, both blonde-haired and blue-eyed.
When Sarah was 6, she began asking her mother, “Mommy, Mommy, when I grow up, will my eyes be like yours?” Without any exposure to Asian faces in her home or in her community, Sarah had no understanding of ethnic difference. Thirty years ago, the Upper Valley was not exactly known for its diversity.
Sarah’s mother realized that the only place she might find an adult with an ethnic Asian background might be at the local college. That person turned out to be lucky me.
Every week during the school year, Sarah and I shared a few hours over books, games, McDonald’s (I didn’t know better then), and stories about family. She was an inquisitive, gentle, loving child with the most watchful eyes that soaked in everything around her.
When she was 8, something happened. Almost overnight, the very children she grew up with began to take notice of Sarah’s different eyes, her petite nose, her dark hair. And the reactions were not kind or gentle or least of all fair: Sarah suffered needlessly through racial taunts, slurs, and outright attacks. She and her parents were bewildered that the children Sarah had known almost all her life could suddenly turn against her so carelessly, viciously, without provocation.
Again, Sarah’s mother prevailed. She consulted with teachers and administrators, and together, they asked me to make my weekly visits with Sarah take place at her elementary school. I showed up each week in her classroom, where the children could see someone who looked like Sarah, who was an Asian adult, who was – in their eyes, anyway – a person of authority.
Every week, I came with a book or a story, pictures to talk about things Korean or Asian, or sometimes I just showed up to play. And every week, the children greeted me with excitement and hugs. Every week, I wondered silently which of these fresh-faced children could possibly be my Sarah’s tormentors. After spending time with the whole class, Sarah and I always had a few moments alone – I like to think that’s when we both nourished each other’s souls.
The next year – my final year at college – Sarah’s family moved further upstate in Vermont, to the small town in which her father and grandfather had grown up. She had the same teacher her father had had 30 years prior. And whether it was a change of place, or that decades of her family were so entrenched, Sarah did not face the same racism. Ever so slowly, Sarah began to thrive once again.
Decades have passed, and Sarah has remained a constant in my life. After I graduated, we stayed in contact the old-fashioned way – this was back in the day, after all – through letters, phone calls, and visits. She danced at my wedding and I watched with glowing pride when she graduated middle school, then high school, then college, then graduate school – at the top of her class, mind you! I like to think I’ve never missed a major milestone in her life.
When our daughter was born, more than 17 years ago, Sarah’s mother made us the most amazing quilt … she had just discovered photo transfers on fabric, a technology that allowed her to literally stitch Sarah’s and my life together. There we are on the front lawn of Sarah’s house, with Sarah sitting on a pumpkin bigger than her little self, her brother Justin plopped before us in a laughing bundle. There she is with our daughter as a toddler, gleefully smiling at each other, little nose to little nose. There she is with the wind blowing her hair – which hasn’t changed in decades! – in every direction, as she shields her gaze against at an unseen sun.
The quilt hangs over our daughter’s bed … and every night that I kiss our daughter goodnight, I see Sarah smiling, too. Sometimes our daughter asks about a certain picture – she likes to hear the same stories over and over again. And as I say goodnight one more, I wish sweet dreams for Sarah, too.
Today, Sarah has returned back to Vermont, where she’s a track coach at a local school. She’s a phenomenal athlete … and even those many years ago, I never could keep up with her! She drives a bright red, fully-restored, classic Mustang almost older than I am! – the one car I used to point out to her when I was still a teenager as my favorite in all the world! I like to think she takes a little piece of me whenever she pulls out of her garage.
With all the latest gadgets, she calls, emails, and texts me regularly, and texts the kids. While Sarah thinks she might be still be reaching out to me for advice, in many ways, she’s taught me more than she could ever know.
As an Asian American, I feel that I live my life in a place of “in-between” – not quite Asian, not quite American, but somewhere in that elusive space in between. I realize that experience is especially magnified as an Asian adoptee, especially in a transracial family situation. But whatever the hardships or challenges, in the end when all is said and done, family is everything. As Sarah’s mother proved over and over again, never mess with a determined Asian mother – and that’s an Asian mother by birth or by adoption!
About the author:
Morna G. Wales
Morna G. Wales lives in Toronto, Canada, and is a member of the Arts & Letters Club of Toronto, The Alumnae Theatre, and Theatre Ontario. After a twenty-five year banking career, much of it spent in project management, she now devotes her time to acting, writing and Family History research.
The dictionary describes an orphan as, “A child deprived by death of one or usually both parents.” Since I am the “child” of my parents and since both of them are now dead, then in the strictest of senses, I am an orphan. But I did not grow up as one.
I was fortunate to spend my childhood in a loving family in Canada with both parents, a sister and two brothers. During WWII, my father was a member of the Canadian Medical Corps and he met my mother when on leave in Edinburgh. As might be expected, the environment in which we children thrived was nourished by both their cultures, Canadian and British. What we didn’t have was the influence of an older generation as both my father’s parents had died during the war, and my mother’s were living in England. Although we did have an aunt, my mother’s sister, an uncle and three first cousins living in Africa, and one aunt, my father’s sister, who lived close enough to visit us every week, we always felt rather envious of our friends’ families who seemed to have an endless number of first and second cousins to provide a special type of companionship of which we felt deprived.
When my Canadian aunt died, I found amongst her papers a letter from someone I had never met nor even heard of. She had written to my aunt to find out if there might be a family connection. When I read the colourful name of the man through whom she felt they might be related, I became intrigued, for although I hadn’t heard of the letter writer, I certainly had heard of this man. My aunt had regaled us with tales about him, but being children and not having met him, the stories provoked little interest at the time and not enough curiosity to probe for details. Well, now I had my chance and thus started a correspondence with my cousin, whose grandfather was my great-grandfather’s brother, and whom I have yet to meet.
With her inspiration, I embarked on an adventure to discover the Wales family history. My great-great-great grandfather and grandmother immigrated to Canada in 1832, bringing with them six children; two more were born in this country. Descended from those two I have unearthed five hundred cousins living in various parts of North America and the Caribbean. Through the research into my father’s family, I have been given a glimpse of what life was like for the people who emigrated from the land in which my mother was born and this has enriched my life and made me feel more connected than I ever thought I would be. Who knows how many more connections an exploration of my mother’s family will reveal?
About the author:
Paolo A Volpe
In the spirit of Marco Polo, the Milanese-born Italian has always been a traveler and was bitten by wanderlust as soon as he hit 19. First, he relocated to London, then it was Venice and then Rome, where he completed his university degree. Upon arrival in Beijing he finally settled, a concept more foreign to Volpe than any of the places he’s lived in.
Now Volpe runs his own company, Vision Group, a thriving business that connects Chinese companies and foreign eco-technologies, which focus on recycling, specifically waste-to-energy and waste-to-valuable-materials conversions.
So, Who am I?
I have asked myself this question since I start realizing I was much more than bones and flesh, I could date this back when I was 12 years old. I have then committed myself to a phase of research, back then I didn’t know it could have been forever, and through experiencing sensations and feelings in my body, in my mind and in my heart, I have begin observing the continuous mutation of these three aspects of my being; through it I realized that the answer to the question Who am I ? couldn’t have come from either the mind the heart or the body, simply because if continuous mutation is one of the Universal law, who I was yesterday it might not who I am now, or who I will be tomorrow. So, the present is the only real time we are living in, the past is gone, the future we are creating it by living the present with awareness of it.
Now, in this exact instant, who am I? : I am a human being, an extraordinary result of amazing energies at work, a hot-air balloon discharging its past weights, the heavy emotions, in order to fly higher, burning its inner fuel to reach a complete awareness of the processes regulating my actions, the control of the direction through the observation of my thoughts, always with Love for myself and for whatever surrounds me. It is not easy for sure, but I am trying my best, I see results day by day.
Paolo A Volpe
About the Author:
Anna Phoebe has been hailed as the ‘vixen of the violin’ for stunning live stage performances that have won audiences and fans all over the world. Her distinctive and original sound combines influences from rock, classical, gypsy and Middle Eastern music, creating a new genre for the violin. Anna’s electrifying stage presence and unique style of playing has cemented her position as one of the world’s leading stage performers.
In the United States Anna Phoebe is best known for her exhilarating role with the multi-platinum selling arena rock band Trans-Siberian Orchestra, where she was String Director and solo violinist from 2004 to 2010.
Anna’s first two solo albums, Gypsy (written with Angus Clark) and Rise of the Warrior (with Joost van den Broek) are available on iTunes. She is currently working on her third solo album with the musicians from London band Jurojin due to be released in 2013.
For more information please refer to Anna’s website. www.annaphoebe.com
“Becoming a mother – the bond with my daughter”
My name is Anna and I’m 32 years old.
The special bond with my daughter started from the moment I knew she was growing in my belly. Lying awake alone at night, stroking my tummy thinking about the daughter I was going to have, walking around proudly displaying my growing bump, and performing on stage knowing she was listening from inside and we were connected as one….all of these secret, special moments created the bond between us before she had her first gulp of air.
When I gave birth to my daughter Amelia just over a year ago, my whole world changed. I found the experience of childbirth incredibly empowering. The feeling of my body and hers working together to bring her into this world, listening to ourselves and each other and working as a team – it was the most connected to myself and another being I have ever felt. I’ll always remember that first special night in the hospital, lying awake too excited to sleep, watching the gentle rise and fall of her tiny, tiny chest as she slept peacefully.
Having Amelia has changed my entire perspective on life. She has taught me a true understanding of unconditional and all-encompassing love which engulfs my entire being and spills over to my partner, my family and friends. It also deepens the love and respect I feel for my own mother. At 4 weeks old I remember looking at Amelia thinking that she will never fully comprehend exactly HOW much I love her – which in turn made me think about my mother and made me instantly call her to tell her that I love her!
Each day is a learning curve and an adventure. Watching this little being grow and develop her own personality, her likes and dislikes, is such a privilege. As she grows older and becomes increasingly independent, my body is slowly reclaimed back as my own. However, it is forever changed. A part of me will always be with Amelia wherever she goes, and another part of my being becomes a link in the invisible chain which connects me to my mother, my grandmother and the lineage of mothers going back right to the beginning of time.
About the author:
Tao Yue was born in Shanghai in 1976. She took a B.A. in English language and literature at Fudan University and an M.A. in social sciences (cum laude) at the University of Amsterdam. Between university studies she was an editor and journalist in Shanghai and is now an independent intercultural consultant and a case writer at the Rotterdam School of Management.
Tao publishes regularly in English- and Chinese language newspapers, magazines, and multimedia. A selection of her publications is available at http://www.china-cultural-consultancy.com/publications
Red Cricket is her first novel. The Chinese original appeared on the mainland with Huacheng Publishing House in 2012. She is now at work on a second novel about Chinese who come to Europe in search of freedom but rediscover themselves and their heritage through disillusion. Tao lives with her husband and their son in Amsterdam.
Who Am I?
This is a question for everyone that has troubled me all my life. I have loving parents and had what most would consider a happy childhood, but I published a novel about an orphan in search of her biological parents and the secrets of their liaison.* This is no coincidence . . .
Who am I? Intercultural researchers will tell you that Chinese people define who they are by their relations with others—I’m the daughter of so-and-so, the wife of so-and-so, the mother of so-and so—whereas Western people define who they are by their inner attributes—I’m an artistic person with a big heart and, unfortunately, an ego to match . . .
As a Chinese living in the West for almost 13 years now, I am constantly torn between the relationship-oriented me and the self-oriented me. On the one hand, I cannot ignore how others see and accept me, especially those I hold dear. On the other, I feel the urge to be my true self, even at the cost of disappointing those I love.
At first I thought my inner conflict owed to a “clash of civilizations” between China and the West—it is not easy for someone raised in a familistic culture to be thrown into an individualistic one. But over the years I gradually realized that the conflict was not so much in the cultures as it was in me.
Thinking back, I realize I already lived double identities as a child. My parents are from Shanghai and Beijing—two distant and equally arrogant cultures. Growing up in Shanghai, I felt like an outcast because my accent was not pure and my skin was not fair—yes, a real Shanghai girl should look like a porcelain doll with delicate features. But when visiting Beijing (my real home I then felt) I was treated like an exotic guest and asked all kinds of odd questions.
This is where my sense of alienation originates, and it never went away. By my early teens, the problem was inability to identify with my family. I recall lying in bed one night and thinking to myself about the kind of life I wished to live in the future. Only one thing was certain—I did not want my parents’ life. They were both engineers working for a state-run enterprise—an excellent job by the standards of the time. But seeing how secure, routine, and boring their life was, I swore off a career in engineering, government, or big organization.
I kept my promise to myself and defied my parents by studying liberal arts at university instead of finance like all my cousins. I defied them again by turning down a high-paying director’s assistant job at a bank for a low-paying editor’s job at a publisher. I defied them yet again by going abroad instead of making a family and career at home. But the war came when I announced I would marry an American who did not speak Chinese. They threatened to disown me and even feigned a heart attack. I was consumed with guilt but would not give in.
The American shared my alienation. Having lived in Europe most of his adult life, he felt neither Europe nor US was his home; he had long sworn off ever working in big business the way his parents did; and, like me, he scorned bourgeois conventions. The two aliens got married wearing blue jeans in a third country—it was a civil ceremony: no music, no champagne, no flowers, no photos, no banquet: a horrific wedding in Chinese eyes but liberating for me and my husband. For the first time in my life I felt that love can be free and that there was no need for the self-oriented me to fight the other-oriented me in order to find the real me. Three years later we conceived a child—not by design but by accident—who is growing up speaking three languages and who started asking “Who am I?” at age three. We expect he will become as alienated as we are. But is that misfortune or good fortune? I’m not sure anymore.
I used to resent alienation from my family, my school, my home city, my mother country, my host country: I always lived on the periphery and never knew what it felt like to be in the mainstream. That bothered me a lot: how much I wanted to live like others and belong! I tried moving from place to place, from group to group; but wherever I went the feeling of alienation stayed with me. Then I realized it had nothing to do with my social environment—it was me: I belong nowhere and everywhere, this is just who I am.
Is it really so bad? Most people do not have the privilege of staying free from convention and being true to themselves. But many creative people do. Take Ang Lee, a world-renowned Chinese director with the manners of a perfect Confucian gentleman. In his memoir, he says he is an outsider wherever he goes but the further away from home he gets, the more creative he becomes. In the end, not belonging is not such a bad thing—it is a gift few people have and even fewer can live comfortably with but one that encourages sensitivity, sobriety, strength, and acuity.
* The novel Red Cricket appeared in China in 2012; an idiomatic English translation is available but awaits publication. If you are interested, please get in touch (email@example.com).
About the Author:
Leo has been working as a programme host and producer in Jiangsu Broadcasting Station since 1991 in Nanjing City, China. In 2001, he took a M.A. in Information Technology at the University of Nottingham in UK. He now is a deputy director of Jiangsu Communication Broadcasting Station.
Several weeks ago, one of my colleagues designed a section in his evening talk show to let the audience take pictures with their parents’ by mobile and put them on the website of the show. This idea was inspired by a listener sending an email to him talking about his regrets for spending too little time with his parents when they were alive. He said he even had no photo with them. Surprisingly, this section received unexpectedly warm responses from the audience.
After the show, when I visited the website on a cold morning, I saw so many lovely photos, simple but warm. I was thinking it was such a beautiful thing to tell people especially young people to cherish the time with their parents and remember their young faces so that they will not regret when their parents are getting old. I wonder how many people remember their parents’ young face. If we do not open the old photo album, we will hardly believe the old man in front of us used to be so young with so much energy.
This makes me think about my parents. Last year, they moved to my city and we lived together again after 25 years. My father came from Shanghai and my mother came from Beijing. They were sent to Guizhou province , one of the most undeveloped provinces after their graduating from universities according to “national need”. From then on, they have been spending their most beautiful time in that place for 47 years.
Since I was very young, I have been told the thought of “leaving that place” a lot. I think I understood my parents’ generation. They never considered themselves as locals, and it is natural that they wish their children to leave. This idea has been accompanying with me until I graduated from high school and went to Nanjing University when I was 18 years old. This is the very reason that I bought the house for them and moved them to live in Nanjing when I settled down after experiencing plenty of my own “troubles”.
Complicated feelings come to me when I live together with my parents again. On the one hand, watching their ageing face and weakening body, I was so afraid of losing them suddenly someday. On the other hand, I felt the two persons in front of me were no longer the persons I knew when I was a teenager. At that time, what they said to me was always right, just like the truth and they were always my safe harbour. But at present, although I accompany them to watch movies, TV shows and chat with them, we had so many differences. We do not like the same movies and shows. We have different thoughts and views to things, even to the world. Sometimes I wonder, who am I? Am I their child?
I know the difference comes from the time of 25 years and it is actually not the difference but the misunderstanding, as I left them before I spent time knowing them. If I can reverse time back to my age of 18, I would spend as much time as I have to talk to them, to listen to them… However, it is impossible now.
Fortunately, there is still plenty of time for us. I don’t care how different we are at all. What I can do is to spend the time now as compensation for the past 25 years. I will do this as much as I can.
Xinran, founder of The Mothers’ Bridge of Love, and Author of “The Good Women for China” & “Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother”, is sharing with us her journey of self-discovery experience, by answering the self-reflective question of: “Who am I?”, as part of our latest project
Who AM I?
I will be 55 in 6 months time; I had been living in this question until the last week of 2012.
Who am I? The more important point for me is who I am to my mother…
I had no room in my memories about my mum when I was a little girl. ‘She is busy and hard-working, she will come to see you when you are getting taller and learning more things as a good girl’, my grandma kept telling me that almost every day…Then I thought I wasn’t good enough for my mum comes to see me…
The guilt of not being a good daughter had been with me all my life because my mum was barely there for my needs, from how to get a girl a pink dress to giving warm hugs in those cold dark nights.
When I was 30, the year I become mother of my Son PanPan, I realised that nothing could stop a mother’s thinking and love of her baby – nine months’ pregnancy isn’t just for a baby to grow in her tummy, but also for a ‘mother-minded’ seed to be planted and grow in her soul.
But, why did my mother never show me her cares and love both in words and daily routine? I wanted to know who I am in her life, a stranger, a relative, a friend, or if I was a daughter to her as I believed.
Then I have spent more than 20 years researching her generation and interviewed over one hundred women of her age during my career as a journalist and radio presenter inChina. The more I learnt, the deeper the pain I could feel for my mother’s generation, their motherhood had been taken away from them by the political party, and their educated minds became black and white – anyone who cares about family and children could be seen as an evil being! As good women, they must devote their time and love to the political party, country and others!
My mum wanted to be a good woman so much that she couldn’t even have time for her baby daughter!
In fact, I wasn’t the only daughter that had the lonely and missing feeling of their own mother, I had more than dozens of letters every day from my female audience when I ran my radio show ‘The Words on the night breeze’ from 1989 to 1997. The most of them told me how much they wanted to be a good daughter or a good mother but they couldn’t get it from each other, just like me.
After the 1980’s, Chinese life has been changed, bright and colourful, but it didn’t seem the same to many Chinese mothers like mine, they have been held back by their heavy past, or by their deep worry about their children who cannot understand their times and won’t be able to share the pain from their memories…
I have sent every single one of my books to my mother and have been waiting for her to see that I have tried very hard to understand her times, very keen to share the past with her…and I am looking for her…I am looking for my beloved mum in every chapter of my books!
Being 50 is like a turning point of my life, my past starts living in my present, and will accompany with me to my future. So what about my mother? Has she begun walking into her own memories? Is her daughter there? Who am I to my mum now?
The last week of 2012, I called my mum with my New Year greetings, and then I got the best life gift from her: “I am proud of you as my daughter!”, my mum told me on the phone from thousands of miles away in China!
… After a silence, I said to her, “life can be so beautiful!”
There are over 150,000 Chinese children who have been adopted by western families across the world, and they are all on a long march to find their own identity, to understand their culture, enjoy the love of their adoptive families – and to understand how much they mean to their Chinese mothers!
I wish my research and writing could be part of a bridge between China and the West, between cultural understandings, between mothers, and between a mother and her never forgotten baby!
Thank YOU, Xiexie!
MBL is inviting you to participate this wonderful project WHO AM I ?
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”— Aristotle
The Mothers’ Bridge of Love (MBL) promotes cultural awareness and understanding of Chinese culture among people who live in the Western world, and strives to aid the cultural connection between adoptive parents and children adopted from China, to help the children find their cultural roots and heritage, and to support projects that help disadvantaged children in China.
“Adoption” is not only limited to adopted children and their families – as humans we all adopt roles of mother, father, friend, son, daughter, traditions, cultures and religions. We adopt habits, thoughts, feelings, and ideas from all over the world, and from the environment in which we live.
To raise awareness, and show support, for adopted children and their families, MBL is launching a new project to gather inspiring stories from adoptees, as well as leading writers and creatives around the world, to share with us their journeys of self-discovery and identity-forming experience, by answering the self-reflective question of: “Who Am I?” (click the link for the background leaflet)
Through these stories sharing, may we grow and share together the many truths and wisdoms of humanity, and learn from each other’s experiences.
You could leave your beautiful, passionate, and heartfelt writings, poems, and link of your drawings/even short films below as comments, or you could simply send it to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You might be interested in reading Xinran’s story about Who Am I ? — From Xinran.