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  • Hanna Lee

Introducing 'The Adoptee Open Mic Night'

When I opened the room up for The Universal Asian's first time hosting "The Adoptee Open Mic Night," I didn’t know what to expect. My anxiety-riddled mind ran through all the standard questions: Would anyone show up? What if no one wanted to read? How many times might I possibly ugly cry on screen? But, more quickly than I had expected, the numbers jumped. Three people, seven people, 10, 15, 18, 21. We had 21 beautiful people in the room. Those who had their cameras on, beamed from the other side of their screens. It was a reunion for so many of us. And, yet also, an introduction.

For many people in the room, it was the first time hearing each other’s words expressed through their work. I, as well as my co-host Ryan, know about the power of making connections through a shared experience.

Ryan and I met while both attending one of TUA’s online events in April. Our brilliant friend Mila held a viewing of three videos for the release of her musical poetry album, Shrine (2021). How were we to know then, that connecting from that one event, he and I would go on to have the privilege of using the same platform to co-host something like this together now?

As Ryan’s gentle voice explains our purpose and the goals of holding this space, heads nod in agreement from their screens as he states, “We welcome anyone to join us. Anyone! However, only adoptees are welcome on the mic. This space is going to be centering adoptee voices, and we’re going to be putting black, brown, queer, and trans adoptees to the front of the line. And I’m really excited to create this space. There’s not really a space like this. This is the first meeting and I’m already really excited about how many people are in the room.”

He continues, “I’ve really thought about content warnings and trigger warnings, and I think that’s a conversation we’ll have. But we’re also adoptees and we didn’t get those things. When we were purchased out of our cultural, linguistic, and familial settings. And a lot of us have dealt with issues, such as, emotional, verbal, mental, sexual abuse. This is Adoptee Suicide Awareness Month; adoptees are four times more likely to commit suicide. All of these things are our reality, we didn’t get a warning, there’s no model, there’s no framework for us, and so you’re not always going to get a content warning and a trigger warning. And it’s okay for you to share, and it’s okay for you to not share with us. We’re here to support you no matter where you’re at in that. But, if you’re unable to support there is one solution, that is to exit the space.”

Silent cheers erupt on everyone’s mini-sized screens. Hands shoot up in the air, several people are seen soundlessly clapping. But, every visible face holds a wide warm smile.

Mila was the first to step up to the mic. Her strength, courage, passion, and pain resound in her every word. As she’s reading, the comments stream in. Words of encouragement as well as words of empathy, but more importantly, words expressing only absolute support.

When the mic is passed to Heather, she explains that this is her first time reading any of her poetry out loud. Her heart is made visible as she reads a piece that she wrote in the aftermath of the Atlanta shootings. The rawness of her pain laid bare before us. The echo of her anger and sorrow, filling the space long after her words had stopped.

Sanjay goes next. This was my first introduction into who this complex individual is. And even now, thinking back on all this, I’m blown away by this human. He casually explains this was spontaneously written the night before, and is more of a reflection than a poem, but that he would leave it up to us to decide for ourselves. His piece not only broke the door open into his complex cultural identity, but also how that became convoluted into his transgender identity. And what it’s like existing simultaneously in these realities.

Let me share some of the comments that were coming into the chat during this time:

Sohyun An:Wow!!!! Thank you Sanjay! Love your name!! Uyenthi Tran Myhre: !!! powerful. thank you Sanjay! Lina Vanegas: Thank you, Sanjay!! That was so powerful. You did amazing. Kelsey Wheaton: thanks for sharing! Mila Konomos: I related to so much of what you shared regarding our names! Helen Moon: We have such complicated relationships with our names. Sanjay, your story and your words are beautiful. Thank you for sharing and letting me be in this space.

As the ball keeps rolling, Kris, a late discovery adoptee, goes next. His entire existence is influenced by the trauma of discovering he was adopted only two short years ago, when he was an adult. His work amplifies an ongoing struggle, his fighting spirit, but always ends with strength. There’s a huge sense of inspiration to be found through his work. Because, despite everything, he knows who he is. And, the entire room can feel it.

When it’s Ryan’s turn to step up to the mic, I can feel the anticipation building with the racing of my heartbeat. His intentionally devastating words shatter any illusion of falsehoods that could ever be argued by non-adopted individuals. When you write a piece with the title of, “The ongoing effects of being commodified and sold on an international marketplace,” the message is as clear as it’s going to get.

We utilized every minute of "The Adoptee Open Mic Night." We filled every moment with sharing, support, and connection. I hope this gives you some insight into the world we’re trying to create, some confidence to step up to the mic yourself, and share a message only you can—to bridge the gap; to walk in someone else’s shoes; to not be afraid to be passionately, angrily, messily, you. Because you’re welcome here. And we accept you.

If you’re interested in registering for the next "The Adoptee Open Mic Night," click here.


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