The room was overwhelmingly hot, every person drenched in their own sweat, moving as minimal as possible. The room was teal green, and everywhere in sight were a menagerie of metal cribs all around, babies in each. When feeding time came, all of the tiny children would rush toward the caretaker, trying so hard to get their spoonful of rice.
Then one day, one of the children was taken away, by two people who looked nothing like herself.
They whisked her off to new places, to a new home, filled with unending food, compassion, and love. After a short time had elapsed, the woman turned on the television and sees that there was a torrential storm where she and her husband had just traveled. The ensuing flood wiped out everything in the area. They were shocked.
Turn the clock forward 17 years later. I’m currently a college student studying Astrophysics and English. However, I realize that this may all have been drastically different. On September 13, 1999, my parents adopted me at 13 months old from Viet Nam. If they hadn’t I would have been either dead from the flood or living a life of poverty in the rice fields as an orphan, stripped of any chance to achieve my dreams. This always reminds me that life can take many paths, meet a myriad of forked roads, and yet I know that I am lucky. I am grateful for every opportunity afforded to me because of my parents’ choice to adopt me.
However, being adopted has always accrued the same repetitive questions throughout the years. Your adopted? What nationality are your parents? Oh, your parents are white? Do you know who your other parents are? Do you want to know who they are? Do you speak Vietnamese? Do you want to go back to Viet Nam?
I always hear the phrase “blood is thicker than water” and “because of family,” but I don’t necessarily subscribe to this. I share no blood with either of my parents, and the fact that my mom did not birth me, my parents do not share my DNA, or the fact I lived a year without them makes them no less my parents. To me, my adoption barely registers to me.
Yes, I am adopted. My parents traveled to Viet Nam for a month. They were immersed in the culture. My dad was able to return to Viet Nam, 32 years after being a door gunner in the Viet Nam War. My mom fulfilled her life long dream of adopting a child, something she knew she would do since she was a young child. They were vetted, background searched, and had social workers check out their living situations until they were approved to adopt a child. Phones rang and rang until one had spoken the words “There’s a baby girl in Viet Nam.” And then more months were taken to get the paper work in order, paperwork which my mom clutched with her life the entire time in Viet Nam. Fear hung in the air as Viet Nam signed away my citizenship, but the US hadn’t yet accepted me as a citizen. For a while I was a girl without a country.
These parents, that whisked me away to the US, are both of European descent. My mother is Italian, the granddaughter of farmer immigrants from Naples. My father is Irish, his family spanning many generations in the United States, all the way back to the Revolutionary Era.
Yes, they are white, but by them having a different ethnicity than me has allowed me to ignore the division of some see from different cultures and fostered an acceptance of all cultures. I celebrate my Vietnamese-Italian-Irish background. As I mentioned in my other article about food and identity, I have celebrated Italian meals and I have celebrated Vietnamese meals. I celebrate New Year’s Day on January 1 and Tết, Vietnamese New Year. I grew up in Newark and went to a school that had people from all over the world with different backgrounds, including people born in India, the Philippines, Uganda, Poland, Ecuador, and Italy, to name a few. Many, like me, celebrated multiple cultures and their multiple ethnicities. Being adopted has never made me feel cut off from my original culture. It’s always made me more accepting of others.
No, I don’t know who my birth parents are. No, I actually don’t want to know them. For some, finding their birth parents might be extremely important, but for me I don’t find that to be important. I have aspects that are linked to them, such as my features, my hair, my eyes. There’s probably a number of personality traits or other aspects that are hereditary. However, I focus on the things that I have actively been a part of. My parents gave me everything I’ve ever needed. My mom has made me strong, organized, and fostered a love of learning. My dad has given me a love of stories, storytelling, and art. They’ve sacrificed everything for me, and I’ve been amazingly fortunate to realize they’re all I’ve needed to get me ready to be on my own.
Nope, I was 13 months old when I was adopted. I don’t know anything but English… and a bit of Latin.
Maybe I’d want to go back. Mainly because I’ve just never been akin to tropical places. Maybe one day, if I ever get to travel, I’d go to see Viet Nam, see the rice paddies or the water puppet shows. Maybe I’ll eat phở in Hanoi, Viet Nam, not just Little Saigon, NJ. But for now, I’m content without going back.
I don’t think about another family or life I could be living or why I wasn’t kept in the beginning because I don’t feel like anything is missing.