Introducing Izzy Weiss and In Between
For folks who haven’t heard about your cultural group before, could you give us some background about the founding of In Between?
In Between is an organization that unites and supports those who don’t feel strongly aligned with either their Asian or their American culture. I founded it in March of 2020, so pretty recently. I was motivated to do so because I’m a Chinese adoptee myself. I grew up with a white family, a white brother, in a predominantly white high school, and all white friends.
Now, I go to UC Berkeley, and it’s 40% Asian-American there, which is way more Asians than I’ve ever seen before. I felt left out of the groups in both my scenarios. In high school, I didn’t face blatant racism, but I just felt a little different in the way I looked even though I acted the same, was raised the same. Then, I went to college, and now a lot of my friends are Asian-American and I can’t connect to them on cultural things, foods, holidays, and language—I only speak English. So, I didn’t feel comfortable joining my school’s Asian-American Association, because I felt like the only Asian thing about me is the way that I look. I wanted to create a space for people who feel this way and in the in between, hence the name.
I read the bios of your executive board and it doesn’t seem like everyone is from an adoptee background. Is this group for anyone who feels like they’re in between being American and Asian?
When I first started thinking about the club, I was going to name it Four A: Asian Adopted American Association or something like that, but there’s not that many people on my campus that are adopted and Asian-American. I was a freshman this past year. I was going back to my dorm and I saw my friend Hannah in the hall, and I said, “Hey! You’re Chinese-American, can I tell you about this club?” I was just expressing how I was feeling; I just can’t really relate with either group. She said, “Honestly, I know that I’m not adopted, but I feel like I understand this feeling.” Because her grandparents and parents speak Cantonese but she doesn’t speak it very well, there’s a disconnect there. She acts very differently around her family versus her friends. So, then I realized that I don’t need to limit this to Asian-American adoptees. I also have a few friends that are mixed race, and they have that same feeling. So it’s really open to anyone who feels like they lie on this spectrum of being in between.
It sounds like maybe the common thread is a feeling of displacement. I love that it is open to anyone who feels that way, and that you saw this need even at UC Berkeley, where it is so diverse. So you founded In Between, but it sounds like you are already starting chapters all over the country?
Yeah, so it really is funny. From March to July, there was not much growth. I didn’t even think about opening other chapters, I was just thinking this would be a UC Berkeley club. I have four other kids who are Cal students helping me with our chapter and it was summertime and I thought, “Do people even want to work on clubs in the summer? We should just wait to get everything started for the fall.” But then I don’t know, just one day I was thinking “Why? Why not make it a bigger thing?”
In 2018, I flew to China. I went to Wuhan, China with a group of 30 other Chinese adoptees who were adopted throughout different provinces in China, but all live in the States now. We have a group message and we’re all pretty close. We do Zoom chats, we text all the time. So I thought, well this is the perfect place for me to target opening new chapters, because a lot of them are my age, college students. I just texted all of my friends and said, “Hey, this is a thing I started at Berkeley, does anybody want to start a chapter at their school? I’ll hop on a call. I’d love to talk to you more about it.” I had three girls from that start chapters. Plus, Facebook is an amazing platform. I’m in really niche Facebook groups, like International Children from China, Subtle Asian Adoptee Traits, very niche Asian adoptee Facebook groups. So, I posted in there, and that’s how I had more people reaching out. That’s how we started expanding.
It’s so amazing to see how quickly things start and spread nowadays with everything you have accessible to you through different types of technology. Do you picture this as something that goes beyond college for you? It seems like this could grow to be for anyone that feels the way that you feel.
I think I like taking baby steps. I’m not really sure down the road. Right now, I don’t foresee a future in making this my life, my career, building this non-profit. But, I do wish to continue it after college. I have a few girls who are starting a chapter at Cal Poly SLO and they are seniors, they’re about to graduate, and they said, “This is what we want to go into. We want to grow this, we want to make this big. We want to do summer camps. We want to file it as an actual non-profit.” And, they’re very motivated to do that. I think this year is not the time for that, especially since we’re so new. Hopefully in the long term, it will continue.
Have you thought about what this club will be like once you’re back in school and in person?
Before COVID hit, we were planning in-person events. We have different committees, so we’ll do social events, cultural outreach events, and then service events. A big part of it is this common thread, this feeling of in between. I really wanted to emphasize community and relationship building within the group, so hopefully when COVID goes away, we can do more in-person socials, a lot of food related things that have to do with our culture and we can’t do through Zoom, so I’m excited to go back so we can do all of that. Then, I’m hoping we can do service events—there are a couple of third party organizations in Berkeley that work with orphanages in China, so we were hoping to collaborate, but we’re going to take a different spin on how we do service this year, just because of COVID. Hopefully, we can focus on building community in person.
What would the service with the orphanages in China look like?
There’s a lot of fiscal donations that these places need. Finding ways to fundraise, to donate. This probably wouldn’t happen in the near future, but there’s heritage tours that take adoptees back to where they’re born and they need translators. Hopefully, having a few people in our club help with trips. My VP of service is fluent in Korean and he goes back and does translating when people meet their birth parents, and that is a surreal experience. So, hopefully giving kids the opportunity to do that. With COVID, there was a need for masks. Trying to reach out in those forms.
Could you tell me a little bit more about your personal experience with your identity and feeling these two different parts of your identity. You mentioned being able to do the heritage trip in 2018. What other parts of growing up as an Asian adoptee really drove you to found this group. What was growing up like for you as an Asian with white parents?
I grew up in Colorado all 18 years of my life, and then last year I moved to New Mexico. It’s not like every single second of my life I am reminded that I’m adopted, that’s not how it is. But, when I was growing up, in a predominately white school, I have prom pictures and it’s literally all these super white people and boom! dark hair me. I think growing up with everyone looking the same and you looking different from them… I didn’t try to forget I was adopted and Asian because you can’t forget your race and pretend you’re white. But, it was something that I didn’t love to think about. It’s not all of who I am. I would tell people because obviously it’s apparent. Yet, I didn’t want it to be a huge part of my life. I have met girls my age and older and that’s how they think also. Obviously, not all Asian adoptees think the same. I liked to pretend it wasn’t a thing.
When my mom came to me with this opportunity, “Hey, there’s this trip back to China.” I was going to be a junior in high school, and I just thought it would be really interesting. I didn’t really think about how it would affect me long term and psychologically also; it’s a very heavy trip. I went on this trip and—I don’t know if eye-opening is the word—because I kind of knew what was going to happen. I would be playing with these orphans in China. I thought we were going to be with young kids, cute babies, playing and singing and dancing. A lot of the kids were 16, 17, 18. I was 17 at the time. First of all, I had never been out of the country and being in China was crazy for me. Standing in an orphanage in China, across the world, looking and talking to somebody your own age who’s been in the orphanage for 18 years and you have lived this entirely different life, and you speak two different languages. I have great opportunities, go to university, and they’re still in the orphanage. That was what really hit me. I think since—I’m getting a little emotional—I think since then, I realize I need to be more grateful and appreciative and acknowledge the first 12 months of my life and I can’t just forget that I’m adopted now. It just made me more grateful for being adopted because I could still be over there.
My senior year [of high school], I was in music. I’ve always been into singing and music and my Chinese name is Yeong Cheong which is “forever singing.” I just have these moments I remember specifically thinking about my story. I was in choir one day singing this song called “Underneath the Stars.” This song is about two people who love each other who can’t be with each other, but they’re both under the same stars. It was originally written as a love song, but as I was singing, it hit me that I’m under the same stars as my birth mother and it’s the same story but in a different way. Yet, I’m probably most likely never going to meet her. So, that was one specific time in my life that it really hit me. Sometimes I get pretty emotional when I think about it, but most of the time, I’m pretty light-hearted and open about everything I feel.
Then, I started college and saw so much diversity that I’m not used to. I saw people really embracing things about their Asian culture, because all their friends did, and their parents did. Like traditional foods that my friends in high school would say is weird or gross, that was the norm now. Then, really small things also, like anime and boba, that are small and not even a significant thing. But growing up in such a suburban, vanilla neighborhood, if you watched anime in my high school, you were the weird kid. It’s not even a weird thing! If you drank boba, you were so weird! Now, that’s just so normal. That’s not even a big thing about the culture, but it made me see Asian-American culture differently than I had previously. I thought, I just need to start somewhere I can be in the in between.
Thank you for sharing that. That emotional connection is such a big piece of your experience not being raised by people who look like you or who know the culture that you are from. And it sounds like you didn’t have very much access to that when you were growing up compared to being in the Bay Area.
How can people participate in In Between?
We have national events, at least twice a month. Anybody from any chapter can join and even if you’re not a college student, if you’re post-grad or you’re still in high school, we allow anybody to come as long as you feel in between.
You can follow us @inbetweennational on Instagram and through the bio on Instagram we have links for you to sign up for a chapter and register for our future events. We have a newsletter, it goes out every two weeks and updates people on the events we’re having, the chapters we’re opening, and member spotlights.
If you’re interested in starting a chapter in your school, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m really open to talking to people and helping them open their own chapter.