One of my adoptee friends told me that she has keen “adoptee radar.” I thought this was a funny thing to say, but then I realized that I, too, often try to find out if people I know are adoptees. I compiled a list of some of the characteristics I look for in determining whether or not someone is an adoptee. This list is not exhaustive, and of course, not every adoptee will subscribe to any or all of these below mentioned indicators.
1. They have a very Westernized name, particularly last name. (A lot of 1.5 or 2nd generation kids have Western first names, but not last names.)
2. The majority of their friends are white.
3. They’re studying Mandarin in school.
4. They went to Chinese School on Saturdays.
5. They can’t tolerate spicy food.
6. They don’t know which year it is on the zodiac calendar.
7. They’re Jewish.
8. They only played violin for one year or not at all.
9. They fumble when using chopsticks.
10. Their parents are white.
After I made this list, I thought about how frustrating it is when other people try to piece together my life without even knowing me. I hate all of the assumptions made about adoptees’ lives and had to ask myself, why do I do this to other people when it clearly bothers me so much?
This brings me to a beautiful quote by Anderson Cooper. The statement is in reference to his brother’s suicide, but I think it is applicable for adoptees as well:
“If you learn the language of loss early, I think you seek out others who have experienced the same thing, who speak that language of loss.” – Anderson Cooper
This doesn’t excuse my urge to pry, but I believe it does speak to why I am always so curious to know whether or not a classmate is an adoptee. When I see families where the children look like replicas of their parents, it’s easy to forget that I am not alone in my experience. This is one of the reasons being in a large community of adoptees is so powerful and important.
When I try to discover if a person is another adoptee, I don’t do it to obtain more information or settle mindless curiosities. I don’t nose into other people’s business to win bets or attempt to characterize them. I do it because I seek relationships with others who have a shared experience, who can empathize with the complexities of abandonment, adoption, and assimilation better than my non-adopted peers. I do it because it provides an automatic connection and makes us both feel less alone. And I think that’s the difference between the outside suspicions that are followed by thoughts of either irritation or satisfaction.