- Samantha Der
My Thoughts on Adoption: From an Asian American woman without children
I had always dreamed of having children. I grew up in a big family with lots of siblings, relatives, and cousins. There were so many adventures—it was a great experience. I just assumed my spouse and I would have kids of our own one day. He came from a big family, too. So far, there’s none. Apparently, it’s complicated. But that’s a different story.
Over the years, I have done a lot of research on adoption, and I’ve certainly learned a lot. I always wanted biological children, but I was interested in adopting as well. There’s a lot of things to consider when it comes to adoption. As a woman of Asian descent living in America, there’s additional things I think about. What is the best for the child? What is the best fit? Does race matter?
I had first looked into domestic adoption and spoke to an agency based in America’s Midwest. When I told the representative that my husband and I were both of Asian descent, he informed me that it would be difficult for us, as the Asian population is small and there are rarely Asian children to adopt. He also said that Hispanic children are a rarity, because they have large families and some relative typically steps up to take care of the child if the parents are unable to or have passed away.
The representative encouraged me to consider adopting African American children, many of whom are in need of a loving, supportive home. My first thought was, yes, race doesn’t matter. A child is a child, a valuable human being, regardless of ethnicity, social constructs or labels. As a minority myself, I don’t discriminate. I just want to take care of someone, nurture, and guide my child, let the kid know that I’ll always be there for them and will help them through life. At the same time, I fully understand that pushing the colorblind narrative is outdated and actually harmful, especially when it comes to adoption.
Even if I, as an adoptive parent, see past the child’s race, that doesn’t make race or ethnicity less important. As much as some say race shouldn’t matter, the reality is that race has always mattered. Whether I like it or not, race—with all the assumptions that go along with it—is the first thing that people see when they meet someone. People stereotype and make judgments simply based on surface appearances. I know that a child who is of a different race than their parents will have experiences that are unique and distinct from their family members. If I were transracially adopted, I would want my parents to hear me and see me and appreciate all aspects of who I am. I would want my concerns and feelings validated. I believe that transracial adoption puts the onus on adoptive parents to learn about their child’s unique ancestry and cultural heritage and to share that knowledge with their child. Adoptive parents need to build a network of cultural relationships and activities that develops their child’s self-identity, supports good mental health, and keeps their child safe.
Interestingly, I also spoke to a woman from an adoption agency in California who asked me to describe my husband and me. I told her that we were both of Asian descent. We were both born in America and raised in white suburbs in families with a Chinese American cultural context. Neither of us can speak Chinese or any other Asian language, though. We only speak English. She asked me if we are considering adopting white children. I was kind of surprised and told her that I hadn’t thought of it. I explained that I live in a part of the country that is very homogenous, so the child would likely comfortably fit into the community; he or she wouldn’t stand out. Since there were so few minorities where we live, however, I wondered how the child would feel about having two Asian parents. I admitted to her that I’ve never seen nor met Asian parents with a white child. The woman seemed taken aback and told me with sharpness in her voice that I should be open to adopting a child regardless of skin color. She stated that they have had several families of non-white backgrounds, including Asians, who adopted Caucasian children.
I explained that I used to live in California where it was racially diverse, open and progressive in general, so I understood where she’s coming from. I don’t live in California anymore though, and I wondered how a white child in the more conservative, traditional Midwest environment would feel growing up with parents who looked different from their friends’ and classmates’ parents. Would the child be teased and grow to resent us? Transracial adoption when the child’s ancestry is from a race that is the same as the dominant culture could be easier, but surely some work must be done to ensure the child adjusts and grows up feeling good about themselves and their family.
Ultimately, I see that an open adoption—whenever possible (and usually the case with all domestic adoptions) —is always the best for the child. I have read stories that feed into the fear of things becoming complicated when birth parents get involved. But, I believe that the inherent desire and need to know where I came from and how I got here is often undeniable. I would rather have the opportunity to support that journey than not at all.
Overall, I have personally seen more in the past few years than ever before, that life is incredibly short. Why not help make the experience, while we’re here, as positive, painless ,and encouraging as possible? Despite our multitude of differences, there is something that bonds all of us humans together. We all experience the same thing. Something beyond our control caused us to enter this world from somewhere none of us knows. We live our lives, and then eventually, inevitably, we transition back over to some other place—a place that I like to believe is peaceful, inclusive, wholly accepting, all understanding, and beautiful.
Cover photo: Kevin Liang