Update: Seven years on from 'On Meeting My Birth Mother'
"In an ideal world there would be no need for adoption. But, we do not live in an ideal world and I doubt we ever will…"
I am still a work in progress. I have learnt a lot, but there is still a lot to learn and to change about myself. I’m still working on that puzzle….
This was in response to the six Asian women killed in the Atlanta shootings.
For me, one of the biggest things that happened very recently was being able to begin to understand where the rage and despair came from. When COVID started making itself known around the world in early 2020, a rise in anti-Asian sentiment quickly followed. I took this very personally and was incredibly upset by it—and the question came again from Asians and non-Asians alike: “Why do you get so upset with racism?”
I started making works around this notion in 2014.
Collections of elegant and priceless blue and white porcelain is found in grand homes throughout the U.K., Europe, and the U.S. for at least two centuries. Yet, it is relatively recently that an Asian would ever be accepted into those homes as a social equal.
This version is a strange version, full of beasties and scary things (look for the fruit made to look like the COVID virus), made in 2020 during lockdown.
This question has been asked of me throughout my life, but I did think a lot about it last year and into this year.
“It is hard to process racism when the perpetrators look like members of your own family.”
Many Asians living in Western countries have experienced racism. As a child, they go home to a family who look like them, and even if nothing is said, there is a shared experience. A child will watch how their parents and older relatives react to and manage racist incidents and microaggressions. They will learn how to react and handle themselves, but most likely, they would be believed.
I learnt very quickly to stay silent after being dismissed or told, “not to tell tales” soon after starting school. And, as recently as a month ago, in an exchange with a sibling, the penny finally dropped. I was told: “We always assumed you were one of us"; therefore, I would be immune to any racism as my family did not see me as Asian. “But this was the '60s, '70s, and '80s. The accepted way was to raise inter-country/transracial adoptees as 'color blind'; we didn’t know any better at that time.”
This makes perfect sense to me now and another piece of the puzzle slotted into place.
However, as a child and throughout my teenage years, I noted the difference in how I was treated compared to my white siblings or classmates. I saw people’s attitudes visibly change when one of my parents came into view and I was confused, then hurt, then angry.
I am 55 now.
I am a professional artist: exhibiting and licensing my art globally. I wake up with a purpose every day and am thrilled to have reached an audience in many countries around the world. I had the support and encouragement from my husband and family to follow my dream, which is something I am truly grateful for.
My birth mother and I continue to communicate, and while I am sad about aspects of our relationship, I feel incredibly lucky to have her in my life. Whenever we connect, I feel so much joy. For me, I would love to change the narrative around inter-country or transracial adoption. There’s a common assumption that adoptees would face a life of neglect, poverty, and abuse if they were not adopted. In many cases, and especially in 2021, this just isn’t true. It would be more beneficial, in my opinion, to put steps in place to enable children to stay within their families or communities—where applicable. Every case is different. I have no ready answers.
Since 2014, I donate time and art to a number of adoption-led organizations in Australia and elsewhere. I sometimes run art workshops for inter-country adoptees; and I get as much of a kick out of it as they do. I share my stories because if it helps someone else connect the dots then it’s worth it after my own years of struggle. I credit younger transracial/inter-country adoptee connections for educating me on a lot of things, as well as friends and my husband for telling me to pull my head in when needed.
And, I’m starting to show up for causes I believe in—because I need to.
I am in charge of my own happiness. And yeah, I’m pretty happy.
You can read Gabby Malpas’s "On Meeting My Birth Mother" here.
All artwork and text by Gabby Malpas
Cover image credit: “Socks and TV,” Gabby Malpas