Update: I’m happy to report that the administer and I have been able to resolve our differences and move forward in a respectful manner. Nevertheless, adoptees’ voices are still largely ignored, and I still feel the heart of this piece remains true.
Absolutely nothing is known about the first years of my life. My personal history begins when I was two years old, allegedly abandoned on a busy street in Nanjing, China. From there I was taken to the local police station, and then to the Nanjing Social Welfare Institute. In these ways, the beginning of my life can be characterized by a complete lack of control. The decision to leave my first family was not mine. This was made by the national government in 1979, when China first introduced the One Child Policy. And this was again made by the local government, as Jiangsu Province implemented one of the strictest family planning commissions in the country.
When I first came to the orphanage, I used silence as a coping mechanism, physically displaying how powerless I probably felt. During my transition from orphan to adoptee, I again rendered myself voiceless. I was thrust into yet another unfamiliar situation, this time with strangers who didn’t look like me or speak my language. Upon meeting my parents, I refused to talk to them for more than a week. Through adoption, other people and policies again dictated the direction of my life. Dependent on the person who matched me with my parents, I could have gone to any country, been given any name, and grown into any number of different people.
Now, as an adult, my first reaction to adversity is no longer silence. Through this blog, public speaking opportunities, and more maturity, I am finally finding my voice. And with this voice, I’ve discovered, comes power. The ability to tell my narrative and my truths in the ways I want has allowed me to create my own agency, which is something I have lacked for so long.
No longer holding my voice back, I now find that my experiences are often discredited by others – sometimes by the very people who have encouraged me in other areas of my life. A little too radical, too threatening, or too deviant from the mainstream, my adult adoptee opinion is often unwanted or written off immediately as “ignorant” and “ungrateful.” Though I am used to harsh criticism of my words, it was not until this spring that I was quite literally silenced by an adoptive parent.
Being from the Nanjing Social Welfare Institute, I joined the facebook group titled, “Families with adopted children from Nanjing SWI, China.” On that page, like any other adoption group at the time, the video “If You Wouldn’t Say it about a Boob Job” was circulated. I have some serious problems with this video (you can read about them: here) and decided that, as one of the only adoptees in the group, I couldn’t let my voice go unheard. I responded to the post with only a few words and the link to the Lost Daughter’s roundtable discussion on the video. Instead of provoking an insightful discussion on the video or adoption rhetoric at large, my status as an adoptee was questioned, my comment deleted, and my presence in the group removed.
The description of the Nanjing SWI facebook group says, “This group is for families who are in the process of adopting from the Nanjing SWI or have already done so, and for the adopted children from Nanjing.” Though I am no longer a child, I still feel that I very much fit into the membership of this group. I sent the administrator a message confirming my identity as an adoptee and asking about the reason for my removal. She never responded to my message or my two additional requests to rejoin the group, nor do I think she will.
I was particularly surprised by this behavior from a high ranking staff member of a well regarded university. While this type of institution is supposed to help foster the development and deeper thinking of young people, like myself, she has done the antithesis. She has not only ignored the adoptee voice, she has actively silenced me by removing my words from the discussion and by barring my ability to communicate with those who are adopted or have adopted from my orphanage. More than muting my voice, she has offended me at the core by doubting my integrity and, with a click of a mouse, making me nonexistent.
In the past few years, I have grown so much, yet these instances draw me back to my three year old self. I feel powerless and voiceless again, but this time not by my choosing. Who is this woman, and what right does she have to tell that I don’t belong in a group of people from my orphanage?
It is for this reason I get so upset when adoptive parents say they feel unfairly judged or unheard. Adoptive parents have been heard and heard and heard again, while adult adoptees have had to fight to be heard at all. As children, adoptees are voiceless in the adoption process, and in a large part remain voiceless as adults, as well. Adoptive parents are in charge of heritage camps, have authored the majority of adoption literature, have led adoption research, drive the demand for adoption, and continue to dismiss the adoptee voice when the words aren’t to their liking. At no point, in the lifelong process of adoption, have adoptive parents been powerless in the same way as adoptees.
So, to the administrator of the “Families with adopted children from the Nanjing SWI, China” facebook group and the others, like her, who wish to silence the adoptee voice, I say this: I was a child from the Nanjing Social Welfare Institute, now a young adult, whether you choose to acknowledge me or not. Though you may try to silence me, I will simply find other avenues and platforms from which to share my voice. I will not be speechless again.