An #importedAsians POV: Lyla Mills, founder of Adopted, Chosen, Loved
The Universal Asian had the pleasure of interviewing Lyla Mills, founder of Adopted, Chosen, Loved, which is a mentorship program that places older and more experienced adoptees with younger adoptees to explore interests and develop a lifetime bond.
What is your adoption story?
I was adopted from China at three months old and raised in Alpharetta, Georgia, a suburb outside of Atlanta. Growing up, I wished I had an older sibling or someone to openly share my journey of adoption with. I created this program hoping to establish a big sister/brother environment to help younger adoptees navigate that experience.
Can you tell us more about the program you organized called Adopted, Chosen, Loved?
It’s created a welcoming sense of community! Mentors are matched with mentees depending on their experience, interests, and goals. I worked really hard to establish a family environment, and that’s what we’ve created! All mentors are like older siblings and even connect with the mentees’ parents! We hold different events from Netflix movie parties to makeovers with middle schoolers. Everyone gains a new perspective and a chance to connect with others.
When was the first time you experienced discrimination towards your race or story of adoption?
In elementary school, my class was singing “America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee).” There were probably about three other students who weren’t white, and my teacher pointed at us as we sang the lyrics “my native country, thee” and instead forced us to sing “my chosen country, thee.” Of course I didn’t think anything of it during the time, but looking back it shows how misconstrued our American education system is.
With the holiday season coming up, what types of emotions do you feel? Do you face any racist family members?
I have a small family, so holidays aren’t lonely for me. It’s always myself and my parents, and we go to different locations depending on the holiday. My grandparents fought in WWII, so I’m glad that they aren’t racist towards me. Even though I’m Chinese, they do tend to group Asians together.
Because I have a strong connection with my immediate family, the holidays usually bring up feelings of anxiety. I think about what will happen when my family passes away and when I’m all alone. I’m scared because I lost my birth family, and I don’t want to lose my adoptive family also. I try and focus on the positive memories I’m creating now, but I know all feelings are valid.
What activities do you engage in outside of Adopted, Chosen, Loved?
I actually created Adopted, Chosen, Loved because of the extra time I had due to the coronavirus. If it wasn’t for this pandemic, this program wouldn’t have been established. At first, it started off by connecting a few people; I never thought it would grow to what it is now!
However, I’m also a law student. Every summer, my mother would bring me to a camp in Atlanta, which saved me in a way. Everyone had a different background and it was a fresh experience, and was nice to get out of my suburban town. One year this girl at camp introduced me to her boyfriend, and the next year I found out he shot and killed her. People began making nasty comments about how he was a Black man and she was a white woman, and I wanted to get to the bottom of the case due to the close nature of the crime. I secured an internship at the District Attorney’s office in Atlanta, and it further inspired me to become involved with multiculturalism in the criminal justice system.
Have you returned to China? Are you interested in looking for your birth parents?
I know a ton of transracial adoptees want to connect with their heritage, but I never felt that desire. When I was younger, my parents tried to educate me about my Chinese heritage. I was never interested at the time, and they eventually gave up, which is something I regret. I wish I had maintained some type of connection, but we can only continue to move forward.
However, I’ve always been interested in the chance of having biological siblings. I wonder who my biological parents are, but it is not something I’m actively searching (to find out). I was angry with my birth mother for a while, which presented itself as hatred towards myself. I eventually came to terms with the fact that adoption was her only option. During that time in Chinese history, women had to hide their newborn daughters, or place them for adoption, in hopes of a better life. One night, I was watching this movie about a teenage mother, and it completely shifted my perspective of what it’s like to have a child when you’re not prepared. I know we will always be connected, and I am eternally grateful for my life now.
Do you think transracial adoptees of white families have white privilege?
Such an interesting topic. I think it’s contextual, sometimes we have access to white privilege and sometimes we don’t. Being transracially adopted shows the struggles of not fitting into minority or white racial categories. We have higher chances of getting a call back from recruiters reading our name on a resume, but we still experience racism due to the fact that we aren’t white.
What’s your favorite part about being adopted?
That’s such a great question. My favorite thing is the life I’m living now, and the thought that no one knows what it would’ve been like if I wasn’t adopted. The adoption community has an incredible support system, and I would not be where I am today without them. They truly make me feel adopted, chosen, and loved.
What advice would you give adoptees, especially young adoptees of color?
Don’t let the negatives get to you and ruin your compassion. I know it gets lonely, but once you establish a support system your life completely changes. Learn to be accepting of yourself. My mom always said: “You’re never going to be the smartest or the prettiest person in the room, but find the people in your life that make you feel like you are.”