“Why don’t you look like your mom? Why don’t you have a dad?” When asked these questions as a child, you don’t really think too much about the whys behind questions like that, because you’re raised to view your life a certain way, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten more comfortable with answering them. When I tell people that I’m adopted, others can become uncomfortable, but it’s more common than you’d think.
In 1980, the Chinese government was experiencing a resource shortage due to a 7.8% annual growth rate. During this time, the government implemented the one-child policy, meaning that families were allowed only one child, and if caught with more than one, they would face serious consequences such as a fine between $370-$12,800. Unfortunately, many families conceived more than one child, but due to fear from the government and poverty, a lot of babies were abandoned on the streets. While millions of babies were abandoned, not all children made it to orphanages, and some of the ones who did weren’t adopted. Since so many babies were abandoned, the orphanages were overcrowded and understaffed, resulting in illness like malaria, tuberculosis and sometimes death.
Also, as Chinese culture presents men as the caretakers of their parents in old age, boys were preferred over baby girls. But in situations where boys were born with medical issues, many of these babies were given up due to the lack of money or resources. There were a lot of boys who had cleft lips or paletes, meaning that the skin on their upper lift hadn’t been formed causing it to be open. There were also boys who had heart problems. My brother was one of the babies who unfortunately was born with a cleft lip and palate, and due to this was left on the side of a road in a box, found by a stranger and taken to an orphanage. While he was lucky enough to be adopted, not every baby with medical issues survived.
“I was 10 months old when I was adopted,” East High senior Avery McLaughlin stated. Like McLaughlin, most babies were between six months to a year old when they were adopted, not being able to remember their experience. But in some cases, the children were older. “I was five years old and remember most of it,“ East High senior Allen Harder explained, “I remember mostly family related experiences like my foster care family I had in China.” While most Chinese children were babies when they were adopted, they see what their life was like in an orphanage through pictures, whereas others like Harder, who were adopted later on, have memories from their childhood in China. It’s crucial to understand the different experiences these Chinese adoptees have been through and how it has affected them.
Most of these adoptees don’t know any life other than the American life that they were raised in. While Chinese culture is still part of them, they don’t always feel connected to their heritage. “Being surrounded by a largely white community has been huge and I want to learn more about the East Asian side of me,” East High senior Ally Yager expressed. Growing up in a mainly caucasian society can have its positives, like Harder explained, “It’s made me very aware about other cultures and types of people I wouldn’t have met in China.” While it can also have its negatives, as East High junior Lily Copeland explained, “I feel really alienated from American culture because I’m a Chinese girl with two white parents and I get a lot of weird stares.”
“Considering that I was left at a park I wasn’t going to have a good life, so being adopted has given me more opportunities,” McLaughlin stated. Since it was illegal to give up your child, many families left their babies in busy places for other people to find them and take them to orphanages. Though every adoptee has experienced different things, they have all expressed how being in America has given them more opportunities. Many babies who were put up for adoption were usually found in worn-down and thin clothes, which meant that many families who gave up their babies were very poor. While it would have been very different being raised in China. “Being here in America has really let me reach out and appreciate what I have now and the opportunities I have had,” Yager emphasized.
Since many families from the United States adopted Chinese children, many adoptees connect with one another through being adopted. “I really value my friendships with other Chinese adoptees,” Yager emphasized. “The adoptee experience is definitely unique.” Like Yager, adoptees have always had a certain connection, unlike biological children. As Copeland and I were both adopted from the same orphanage in Chongqing, China, we stayed in touch throughout our childhood because her family lived in Denver and mine lived in Aurora. As we got older, we still reached out to each other but wouldn’t see each other as much. During my sophomore year, I transferred to East High school and coincidentally Copeland was a student there. Most adoptees don’t usually end up in the same place let alone the same neighborhood. Plus, McLaughlin was born in Chongqing and was adopted about a year before Copeland and I were.
While we weren’t all from the same orphanage, we all ended up in the same part of Denver. Chinese adoptees will always have a special bond with each other and value the life they were given. Even though Chinese adoptees have gone through similar experiences, their stories are all unique in different ways.