Scenes of Misrecognition: The Absence of (Visible) Family Ties

I can relate to almost every single one of these situations of misrecognition. From exchange student to niece to neighbor to my dad’s girlfriend, all are awkward and intrusive on varying levels. Though my parents and I talked a lot growing up on how to handle a range of questions and assumptions, the potential for these scenes of misrecognition in adulthood were mostly unmentioned. I absolutely agree this is a necessary conversation for adoptees and their families, so we aren’t left defenseless or startled when they inevitably do happen.

Kimberly McKee, PhD

Adoptive families marked by their transracial or transnational composition find themselves existing in contradiction to traditional definitions of family, which place primacy on genetic-relatedness. Yet, the visual of the adopted child and parent has become solidified in the American imaginary. From depictions of war orphan waifs waiting for adoption in the immediate post-Korean War period to celebrations of multicultural families in present day society, the adopted child has become a more common site in portrayals of the American family. This is not to discount the rude questions asked to adoptive parents (e.g. “how much did they cost?”; “are these kids yours?”) or adoptees.

What happens when that adopted child matures and enters adulthood? Rather than being viewed as a family, the Asian adult adoptee and white adoptive parent may be mistaken for a myriad of relationships other than child/parent. For example, from conversations with other female adoptees it becomes…

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