What Is It Like To Be A Chinese Adoptee?

Amy's story in her words

Photo: Amy Pollard

How do I identify myself – Chinese students called me ‘banana.’



I grew up in all-white suburbs of Washington State. My parents are white. My friends are mostly white. I think myself as a Chinese-American, but I don’t think I have a lot of ties to my Chinese identity, though I did go to Chinese school growing up. I learned some Mandarin when I was in middle school. We did some traditional crafts and calligraphy, so I have a very surface-level knowledge of Chinese culture. There was a point in life when I tried to have more connection in terms of the knowledge of politics, economy, and current events. I want to keep learning.

When I go to Chinatown, I don’t feel that much different, because I don’t really identify as Chinese. I know that people from China who are fluent in Mandarin don’t necessarily see me that way. I’ve known Chinese students and we’ve talked about culture and identity. They were telling me that there’s this thing called “banana” among Chinese students – you are yellow on the outside and white on the inside. I just don’t feel accepted necessarily like a Chinese person or as an American, so it’s like having a split identity, which I know is not unique to me. My parents are very proactive about helping me learn Chinese culture. They encourage me to go to Chinese middle school. We visited Chinese neighborhood and church.


I have a sister adopted from Russia – “Our personalities are completely opposite.”



I have a sister who was adopted from Russia. Our personalities are completely opposite. She's very outgoing and extroverted. She can't keep a secret to save her life. Not like me, she’s very into her Russian side. She always has Russian friends, she tried to learn Russian. I’m just kind of “save it for later,” because there are a lot of things I want to deal in life, and I don’t want to just be caught up in this whole search for whatever is out there, in terms of my identity, my birth parents, or whatever.


I wanted to travel back to China


I was going to travel back to China as a sophomore in college. Then I ran into some issues getting my visa because the government wanted my parents to send them my original adoption papers. And then my parents were skeptical of that. They are like ‘no, we are not going to send the originals,’ so I didn’t end up going in the sophomore.


Racial discrimination that I ran into



As a middle schooler, I went to a private part-time school where students were all white. I don't even remember anyone non-white besides me. There were definitely some comments. And it was hard because they weren't even aware of what just came out of their mouths. And sometimes they realized afterward and they apologized but like it was just such a bubble.

I was in lunchroom one day, and they were two guys behind me saying all Chinese are stupid except the ones from China. I just felt really targeted because I'm obviously Chinese American but I don't consider myself from China. I also remember once someone making a joke in class about all Chinese looking alike. That's what I've heard more than once. I felt really awkward because most of the kids in class laughed. They're all white. Then afterward, the teacher realized. She said she was sorry. Then the kids apologized, too. But it was still not pleasant at all.


Why did my parents choose to adopt from China?

My dad was really interested in Chinese culture. He read many books about China and my parents knew missionary families who went to China. They just went to hear this couple give a speech at our church, so they just ended up choosing China as the destination for adoption.

It was through an adoption agency in our town called WACAP. My birth parents weren’t involved in any way, as far as I know, because the adoption agency would know where the orphanages were and had the whole network in China. We don’t know anything about my birth parents. We don’t even have a copy of birth certificate or hospital record or anything. I think my parents heard from my care takers or some people there that I had been left at a police station.

I knew I was adopted from the start. There was never one moment of revelation. My parents are totally upfront. They told my adoption story as I grew up as a child.


What if I were not adopted...



My life could be completely different if I wasn’t adopted by my parents. Most the kids at the orphanage where I was adopted from went to work at the sweatshop and made stuffed animals, so that’s what I would be doing. I feel I’m very lucky.

Have you been a part of international adoption or know anyone with experience in International adoption?