Most immigrants bring their home country to their new country.
They come with their language, traditions, foods, culture.
l was a baby when l came to the United States, having been adopted from Gansu Province, China.
Now at 19, I proudly claim my place as a Chinese immigrant, a heritage that reaches back 170 years to the California gold rush and the building of the railroads.
But, as an Asian adoptee, I sometimes struggle to find my place in modern-day America, particularly in my relationship to the Asian American community. I look like I belong, but often feel that I don’t. We share the same ancestral homelands, but not the same experience in America or in coming to America.
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Like nearly all of the 100,000 China adoptees in this country, I was raised by white parents. They kept a connection to my birth culture by enrolling me in activities such as Mandarin classes and Kung Fu school in Philadelphia’s Chinatown.
Yet, as a girl in Chinatown, I sometimes felt as if I was on a play-date — visiting someone else’s house for a limited, confined interaction. I loved donning the giant, papier mache heads to Lion Dance, and when Kung Fu class finished, our Sifu would reward us with deliciously sweet Chinese candies.
But knowing I’d leave that community at the end of the day created a sadness, an otherness in me that couldn’t be filled by Chinese take-out food. I felt like a guest in a house I would never live in.
“I felt like a guest in a house I would never live in.”
I skipped joining the Asian Student Association in high school because I didn’t think I would belong. Everyone in the club seemed to know each other. They shared a culture that was lived and handed down by their parents and grandparents. In my house, our Lunar New Year celebration was led by a Swiss mom and an Irish dad.
Last year, amid the rise in anti-Asian violence, I created a “Stop Asian Hate” project, designing posters and lawn signs to sell, and donating the profits to Asian Americans United in Philadelphia.
That spread an important message, but at the end of the day, I realized, I did this on my own. l thought that by fundraising, l would feel more part of the community. But that didn’t happen.
lt felt like I was searching for some specific cultural knowledge, that if I could speak Mandarin or learn to play Go or understood the significance of the stars on the Chinese flag (the small ones represent social classes, the big one the Communist Party), I could unlock the door to that closed house.
l don’t know if that will ever happen.
At Haverford College, l met adoptees from Korea and China who share my uncertainty about their racial identity, and my feelings of straddling Asian America and white America.
Together, we’ve decided to forge our own path and explore how adoption is merely a different, but equally valid, route among the many that Asians have taken to come to America.
This fall we’re starting a campus Asian Adoption Club, aimed at spreading awareness of transracial adoption and creating a community for adoptees to talk about their experiences and their relationship with Asian America.
l’m not sure where it will lead. Or if it will help me feel any more a part of the Asian American community than l do now. But l know it will help other adoptees feel less alone. And that has to be enough for now.
Zhao Gu Gammage will be a sophomore at Haverford College in the fall.