An #importedAsians POV: Caroline Reusen, florist
Please tell me about your background: Where are you from? What is your job? etc.
I am a mixed-race adoptee. I was adopted as an infant, and my older brother was also adopted as well. However, we are not biologically related. I grew up in rural Vermont, which was primarily a very white state. I think my brother and I were probably the only Asians in school. There were maybe a couple of Black kids, but some of them were also adopted. Thus, we didn’t really grow up with much diversity around us. It is a small town after all. I always felt like the odd one out because I looked different than the other kids. Being an adoptee as well added another layer to the feeling of being different.
I always enjoyed art in school because it was therapeutic for me. It was like meditation to me, and I would just get lost in it. I then went to college and got an undergraduate degree in psychology with a minor in studio art. However, although I did a lot of painting and drawing, it never stuck with me.
When I got married, whilst planning my wedding, I found working on the design concepts fun. That really sparked my interest in doing wedding-related things. When I worked with flowers, it was a whole different level for me. I am an anxious person, but somehow when I work with flowers, everything else just goes away and it’s just me and my flowers. I feel so peaceful as well.
How long have you been a florist for?
I’ve been a florist for about five years. Originally, I really wanted to do styling and planning for wedding events, but then I moved from Vermont to Virginia with my husband. I still wanted to do something within the wedding field, so I got in touch with the local flower shop. Although I didn’t have any experience with flowers at all, I had a passion for the wedding industry, so they hired me. From then on, I fell in love with flowers, and they became my art medium. I think this is what I want to do forever in terms of work. I feel super lucky that I found something that I love so much.
You mentioned that you studied psychology in college. Was there a reason why you didn’t pursue a career in psychology?
I always felt kind of out of place growing up. I was also really drawn to psychology and mental health, and because of that, I had the intention to go to school and become a therapist. However, after college, I realized that I didn’t want to go to grad school. To become a therapist, you have to really go to grad school. Despite that, I did end up working in childcare and worked there for a couple years until I got married.
What was it like growing up?
I think, regardless of race, being an adoptee automatically makes me different from others. It’s a subconscious feeling that I can’t explain. Growing up, I honestly didn’t think much about it. I was surrounded by mostly white families and kids, and I’m white passing, which is also another thing. I never really felt Asian nor white. Some people do think I’m white, but that’s a whole [other] kind of complexity.
It wasn’t until recently that I started exploring who I am and dove into what it means to be an Asian adoptee and how it impacts me. I think for so long I just pushed it aside, especially because I didn’t feel that there are communities out there that I was aware of that I could talk to and explore things with.
Growing up, I wasn’t part of any adoptee community. I had met only a handful of other adoptees, but I’d never had a real conversation with them until last year. That might be because of the pandemic and everyone is doing things online. I guess it made it easier to connect with others online and organize Zoom chats, etc.
I currently live in Portland, a relatively diverse city. However, most of the people I interact with or work with are mostly white. So I have never really been exposed to a group of Asian people. As I’m also half white, I don’t think I would be comfortable going to an Asian meetup or joining the community. I guess this feeling also stems from the fact that my parents are white. Other than my brother who is Asian, I don’t have any connections to my Asian roots or ancestry. There’s this Facebook group called Subtle Asian Adoptee Traits. When I first joined the group, I had to clarify with them that I’m half Asian because a part of me doesn’t feel like I deserved or earned the title of being considered an Asian person. However, I’m now slowly telling myself, “No, I am Asian as well. I’m allowed to say that.” Although, I do still feel like a fraud sometimes—especially as an adoptee, that [has] added another layer of complexity.
Were you ever curious about your biological parents?
As I was adopted in the U.S., I think it is much easier for me to get information about my biological parents than international adoptees. However, I grew up not wanting to have any information. I just didn’t feel like I needed it. I think a part of me was pushing it away because of all the complexities of an adoption. Apart from that, I didn’t have a support group as well so I didn’t want to go down that path.
However, I think during one of the holidays, my mom got me a 23andMe genetic test. Everyone knew I was half Asian, but we didn’t know the exact details. So, I took it and we found a DNA relative who was listed as a second or third cousin. In the beginning, I doubted that they would have any information, but out of curiosity, I reached out to them. We found out that his mother and my biological mother were sisters. Since then, I’ve started my journey to get more information about my bio family. It’s really complicated, and there is a lot to unpack; but I do feel a sense of relief from it.
I think I’m at the point where I just don’t have expectations. A part of me thinks that it would be easier to not think about it or have any attachments towards it. All those years, I didn’t even think about my being adopted. I was just suppressing a part of who I was. But now I [have] realized that being a half Asian adoptee is a huge part of me.
In terms of your career, do you have any plans for the future?
I’m the kind of person who doesn’t really plan that far ahead into the future. I like to take things month by month. However, my husband, who is from Belgium, and I love to travel. We’ve been going to different places throughout our lives together. There are a lot of national parks in the U.S., which has designated areas that are preserved landscapes. We’ve been trying to travel to all of them. We would get an RV and just live on the road.
In terms of my career and flowers, I really want to focus on elopements. I want to make flowers for people who want to like elope in the mountains, or some beautiful place. It will mostly be intimate and personal weddings that are smaller scale. I’m not really into big, grand, fancy weddings. I think in the short term, such as in the next five years or so, I would love to get on the road fulltime and be able to travel wherever we want to and freelance. For instance, during the summer, Oregon is really great for weddings, and maybe during the fall or winter, we will move to the South where I will do elopements and small events.
I think it’s a big thing for me to be able to do something that takes the noise, stress, and anxiety out. Whenever I work with flowers, my mind feels clear and at peace. That feeling is the best thing. I just love that I can do that for work. It’s simply amazing.
Cover photo credit: Angela Nunnink