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Asian Adoptees Reflect on Adoption and Identity

Amid the rise in Anti-Asian hate, Chinese and Korean adoptees in New York City reflect on their adoptions and what it means to be Asian American. Many were raised by predominantly white families while not being white themselves, which left some feeling suspended between two racial identities. Often, society has many misconceptions about what adoption is and what it means. But for these adoptees, there are many more nuances within their upbringings and their journey toward self-acceptance. And this is what they’d like to share. 

Katie Maurer, 23, a Chinese adoptee, stands in front of the Williamsburg Bridge, March 21, 2021. Photo by Inga Parkel

Katie Maurer

I think when I was younger, [my adoption] didn’t really shape [my identity] as much because I tried to blend in as much as possible. But in some ways, my identity of being Asian grew stronger the more I traveled. Because unfortunately, I have been subjected to verbal harassment and hypersexualization. I’ve come to realize that nobody’s going to ask when they come at me who my family is, what my background is, how I used to identify myself as white with an Asian veneer. So I feel like now it’s ok for me to go back and embrace the Asian side of myself. 

 

Ilona Kereki, 25, a Chinese adoptee, sits at her desk in Brooklyn, March 28, 2021. Photo by Inga Parkel

Ilona Kereki

I find that when topics like transnational adoption, identity are brought up in casual conversation with other people who aren’t used to it, there’s a clear discomfort, and they clearly can’t manage their discomfort with the information. I’ve also found a recurring theme of “not-enoughness” in my adoption story. But that’s the world’s projection on me, that’s not how I truly feel about myself. I’ve just internalized these ideas of how things “should be.” Whether you think I’m not Chinese enough, whether you think I don’t look like an Asian person. An Asian person can look and behave in a way that you don’t think is traditionally Asian. 

 

Ben Smith, 27, a Chinese adoptee, sits in his bedroom with a glass of coffee in Brooklyn, April 7, 2021. Photo by Inga Parkel

Ben Smith

Being raised in a nontraditional family, in an LGBTQ family, made me hyper-aware of my differences. Adoption is completely different for every single person. And each adoptee’s experience is completely unique in and of itself. News, and the public, and the media, they like to include adoptees as a blanket group, as a monolith. The reality is, especially with adoptees, that’s just not the case whatsoever. I would love to dispel that false understanding. 

 

Zoe Arditi, 23, a Chinese adoptee, sits in her bedroom in Manhattan, April 28, 2021. Photo by Inga Parkel

Zoe Arditi

If I ever bring up that I’m adopted or if it ever comes up in a space, people usually shy away and never ask me about it. I feel like growing up, my identity has been silenced because other people feel uncomfortable. How do I even begin to talk about this if nobody wants to talk about it with me? 

 

Inga Parkel, 23, a Chinese adoptee, sits at her desk in her bedroom in Manhattan, April 15, 2021. Photo by Inga Parkel

Inga Parkel

Growing up, I never wanted to confront my adoptee or Asian identity, but connecting with so many strong and resilient Asian adoptees has provided me a beautiful community of understanding. This time it’s not a community created by and for the adoptive parents, but it’s a community I choose to seek out on my own terms and on my own timeline. 

 

Joseph Pinney, 26, a Korean adoptee, sits in Central Park in New York City, March 13, 2021. Photo by Inga Parkel

Joseph Pinney

The narratives for adoptees in most media is of “damaged” individuals. As if being adopted is something others should feel bad or sorry for. I think the best word to describe every single adoptee is resilient, the complete opposite of how the adoptee is expressed in most media sources these days with all of the overly emotional reunion videos. Not that those aren’t wonderful, but they’re definitely shown in a particular context and way for the general public to feel a type of way, which is usually translated to how people sometimes get this idea of fragility or “damaged.” When I think it’s the complete opposite.

 

Tori Smith, 25, a Korean adoptee, sits at her dining room table in Brooklyn, April 11, 2021. Photo by Inga Parkel

Tori Smith

I was surrounded by white people. My friends were white. I wanted to be white too. I didn’t have any Asian role models to look up to, to say Asian features are beautiful. But as I got older, I started seeking out K-pop and seeing people who looked like me and were beautiful. And I began to think maybe my Asian features aren’t so bad.

 

Xiaoye Jiang, 25, a Chinese adoptee, sits in her bedroom in Brooklyn, March 12, 2021. Photo by Inga Parkel

Xiaoye Jiang

Things like my name, and my age, and where I was born, these are all things I’ve been told and things I have to take at face value as truth, because what else am I going to believe in? I view being adopted as a hard truth, something that’s indisputable that I know about myself. I’ve definitely made that a big part of who I am.

 

Laura Balcerak, 26, a Chinese adoptee, sits on the stoop of her parent’s apartment building in Brooklyn, March 28, 2021. Photo by Inga Parkel

Laura Balcerak

I don’t know if it’s a misconception or not, but I feel like a lot of people see [adoption] as a purely good thing. It really bugs me when people say, “oh wow, you must be so grateful,” or “it’s such a blessing.” I mean, you’re not wrong. I am grateful, and it is a blessing, but please don’t just disregard everything else. I am lucky. I do think my quality of life is better than in China. But you’re completely blanking over all the struggles, all the hardships. 

 

Emma Arabia, 25, a Chinese adoptee, sits in front of the Bryant Park fountain in Manhattan, April 9, 2021. Photo by Inga Parkel

Emma Arabia

My identity is something that I can determine. For a long time, it felt like it was something that people would determine for me when they would ask those sort of questions that we [adoptees] all hear. Going through losing my mom has really helped me be more present and sincere, and honest with myself. Things happen to your life that you don’t plan and don’t expect.

Riley Burchell, 28, a Korean adoptee, sits on her couch in Manhattan, May 1, 2021. Photo by Inga Parkel

Riley Burchell

I’ve been insulated from the real and very dangerous aspects of racism in this country, just given the socio-economic nature of my upbringing and my parent’s situation. But since especially graduating college and coming here, for all intents and purposes, I navigate the world the same as any other Asian American and am perceived and interacted with by outside parties in that context– as an Asian American. The way that I internalize it is completely different as an adoptee, but those navigation and interactions are still very much the same. I still get called Chinaman on the street sometimes.