The Power of Vulnerability
The sweltering Las Vegas sun beamed down into my eyes, blinding me from the flashing lights and scurrying bodies of the Strip. Even under the bus awning there was no shade, exposing my body to the unwavering beams that perfectly crisped my skin. With the little energy I had left, I sat on the boiling metal bench and waited for the bus. I was planning on getting off at Chinatown and stopping in the first restaurant I saw before heading back to the airport.
As I waited, a light-skinned Black man, who looked like he was in his late 20s, walked over to me. I’m typically hypervigilant when men approach me while in an unfamiliar environment, especially when I’m alone, but there was something innocent and wholesome about his demeanor. “Is this the stop for Chinatown?” he asked me.
“I hope so because that’s where I’m headed. I’ve been here for 30 minutes,” I replied with a smile. For some reason I felt connected to him, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. He laughed at my comment and asked where I was from.
I told him I was getting food then heading to New England. I had spent the previous week exploring Utah’s Mighty Five national parks, as well as the Grand Canyon, and I was ready to head back. I shared how incredible this experience was, being fully present as the stars illuminated the quiet night sky, something you’d never see in my smog ridden city back home. I spoke about how refreshing it was to dive into a crisp river after hiking three hours in 100 degrees Fahrenheit heat, and the sense of autonomy while navigating this experience alone. I asked him why he was here, and he mentioned there was a multi-day festival called "Life Is Beautiful" that featured artists, musicians, and motivational speakers. As we began sharing stories, the bus arrived, saving us from the sweltering heat.
As I searched for my bus pass, I lost track of the young man. I found myself sitting near the front of the bus in case I needed to ask the driver where to get off. I had already made that mistake today. Across from me sat a young man of Asian descent. I leaned over and asked if he was from the area.
“No, I’m actually from Michigan,” he informed me.
“Oh, okay. I was wondering because I’m looking for food recommendations,” I replied. He told me he was heading to a Japanese restaurant called Cafe Sanuki as he showed me the restaurant on his phone screen. The locally Asian owned restaurant had 4.5-star reviews on Yelp, and he extended an invitation if I was interested. Similar to the man I was speaking with before, the conversation flowed naturally, and I accepted his offer. I felt grounded, safe, and comfortable, so I acted against my typically overly cautious behavior. As I began speaking to him, he mentioned he was a pharmacy student and also came to Vegas for the "Life is Beautiful" festival.
After he said that, I noticed the man I was speaking to earlier a few seats behind me. I couldn’t see him before because of the bus pole, but now I noticed he was looking at his phone. “That’s interesting, I was actually speaking to that man earlier, and he’s also here alone for the festival,” which caused the man’s head to perk up. He wasn’t eavesdropping, it just happened to be perfect timing as the Asian man asked him about last night. As the two began speaking, I took a moment to be mindful. If I was traveling in a group, I wouldn’t have connected with either individual in the way I had—with genuineness. In hindsight, it was the perfect ending to a new adventure, yet an unplanned beginning to a new friendship. I asked the first man if he was going to Chinatown to eat, and extended the invitation if he was. He enthusiastically accepted.
As if this series of events were predestined, the bus driver stopped and the Asian man let us know this was our stop. While not the safest thing to do, my intuition was telling me to be vulnerable.
As we walked into the spacious restaurant, the air conditioner hit us like biting into cold ice cream, causing my body to raise with goosebumps. The feng shui radiated clean and revitalizing energy, and the tables were spread apart due to the pandemic. Lights hung down from the ceiling, and the wooden chairs scraped against the floor as we sat an open table. Like the millennials we are, we opened the camera on our smartphones and scanned the QR code for the menu. The two began to speak, but I was hyper focused on the menu. Did I want the addictingly spicy tan tan ramen? I love spicy foods; my coworker from Hunan jokingly says it’s a part of my culture that I have kept. Or, did I want the filling curry beef udon? There’s something undeniably homey and wholesome about curry. After giving my first world problem some thought, I decided on the seafood tomato cream udon, just as my stomach growled. I asked them what they ordered to eat, and the Asian man said he got the shoyu udon and takoyaki for the table, and the light-skinned man stated he got the nabeyaki udon and jalapeno poppers for the table.
I became increasingly grateful for the selflessness shown by the two strangers, especially as food is one of my love languages. There’s something immeasurably powerful when sharing a meal with someone, connecting through taste, quality time, and passion. I ordered chicken karaage for the table, and we began speaking again.
“Are you Chinese?” I asked the Asian man. Throughout the years, I’ve gotten better at differentiating Asian ethnicities based on their features, but as a Chinese adoptee, I think part of me was unconsciously hoping he was Chinese, too.
“Yes, but people say I’m whitewashed. I don’t speak Mandarin anymore, it’s been so long. I also live with my white roommates, and people say I ‘talk white,’” he replied.
I related to his narrative, a story that many transracial adoptees (TRAs) and multicultural individuals understand. To lighten the mood on a sensitive topic, I replied, “Well, I’m transracially adopted, so it’s okay”; and he smiled. The other man looked at me, and I watched his eyebrows push together as he asked if I was really adopted. Typically, when I reveal this information, people begin prying into my life, treating it like a video game to uncover new mysteries for their own entertainment. In the past, I used to feel obligated to explain I was adopted. I would even inform people during the first interaction to avoid sharing my life’s story based on my Irish American name.
My automatic reaction was to be defensive as I fought back from rolling my eyes. “Yes, I really am adopted.” I stated, thinking it would unlock the same questions and reactions as it typically does. While it can be empowering sharing my adoption story, it needs to be a safe space, and I prefer to be the one to initiate it. The power of vulnerability can be cathartic, but it can also come with a cost. Adoption and identity are lifelong journeys that can take years to heal from.
Instead of sympathy and ignorance, his eyes lit up with hope. “That’s crazy, I’m transracially adopted too,” he said. My initial reaction shifted entirely from frustration to curiosity so now I was the one with a million questions. At the time I had only connected with Asian TRAs before, and I had wondered about common themes for TRAs of other ethnicities. It is important to acknowledge that all adoptee narratives are unique; however, I considered if I would relate to the Black TRA community more than my own Asian TRA community. In the beginning of my adoption journey, many Asian TRAs whom I connected with were invested in the white community, something that now makes me feel inauthentic. There are a multitude of reasons why TRAs choose to identify with a community, ranging from personal preferences, self preservation techniques, lack of exposure to diverse environments, etc., but I was particularly invested in hearing his story, curious as to how it may or may not be different for a race that was not Asian.
He mentioned he grew up in a white town, and his adoptive parents didn’t acknowledge or encourage conversation surrounding race. Similar to many TRAs, I related to his story. While I was privileged to be raised in a diverse city, my immediate neighborhood lacked diversity. As a child, I longed for wide blue eyes like my father instead of appreciating my small almond-shaped eyes. I wondered why there weren’t people that looked like me in positions of power, but I was also discouraged from having conversations about race. When I tried to speak about this, I was gaslighted since my family took the colorblind approach.
As he shared his story, I thought about the different implications in our lives because our parents avoided these conversations. As an Asian woman, I am considered the “model minority.” Even though these stereotypes are typically positive, they still hold serious and harmful consequences. At the same time, stereotypes of Black men being dangerous, lazy, or unworthy may take on more explicit and constant forms of violence.
We covered topics surrounding the power of names to the conceptions others had of us. We shared commonalities like how interviewers are always confused, how people would noisily question our lives, and how we were teased growing up. Being a female, many people would assume I am married due to my last name, but he couldn’t hide behind that facade. Many TRAs are also questioned because others may believe there is human trafficking or a sugar baby/sugar daddy relationship happening. Luckily, I haven’t experienced those personally.
We were so engrossed in conversation that when I looked at my phone, I hadn’t realized we’d been there for 2.5 hours. That was everyone’s cue to exchange names, numbers, and social media accounts to stay connected.
As I hopped on the bus back to the airport, I reflected on how incredible my whole experience had been. I’d visited the most beautiful natural landscapes, felt true serenity, and made some genuine connections. One of the biggest lessons from the trip, however, was the power of vulnerability. I’ve only been on my adoption journey for about two years, still reveling and ruminating on my experiences, privilege, and trauma. Previously, I would keep my adoption a secret, something that I was embarrassed about. Kids at school laugh and make jokes about no one loving children placed for adoption, not knowing that I related to that story. Romantic partners would lose interest once they found out I belonged to a white family, not knowing that navigating these relationships are my biggest challenges and insecurities. My friends of color would make comments about how I’m not Asian enough because I’m adopted, not knowing that white friends would also tell me I’m not white enough. At the time, I didn’t have the courage to speak out against these comments and beliefs.
I thought about my prior self and how she would’ve acted. After my mom died as a child, I placed barriers so high that no one could climb them. Vulnerability was my biggest fear. I wouldn’t have eaten with two strangers, shared my most vulnerable stories, and certainly wouldn’t have booked this trip solo. But, it’s through these moments of vulnerability that we can truly connect with others. People can feel energy transmission when you’re coming from a place of love and gratitude versus embarrassment and shame. Negative emotions will tear you down and bury you into a deep isolation, and feeling like there’s an abundance of people that care for you, but no one that truly understands you.
Being vulnerable is being courageous. Being vulnerable is speaking about your experiences, not only so you can heal, but so you can provide hope for others. Being vulnerable is understanding that everything is bigger than us, and everything is connected. Being vulnerable is becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, but putting faith into the universe that what’s for you will come back multiplied. That is when you can truly attract the opportunities, events, and relationships destined for you.