From There, To Here, shares the story of people who have experienced transracial and intercultural adoption. As a Chinese adoptee I made this project in response to how I felt growing up in a place where my cultural and ethnic background was unfamiliar to most people. One look at me and most people see that I’m Asian, and with that comes all the racist stereotypes. To the Asian community, however, since I wasn’t raised in an Asian household, I was never “Asian enough”. Because of this I struggled with my identity a lot. I still continue to be unsure of who I am. I don’t know my Chinese heritage, I don’t know my biological family, I don’t even know when my real birthday is. Some of the most basic knowledge most people have I have zero detail and context about.
Being separated from our roots as a child was something us adoptees couldn’t control, and often leaves us with subconscious trauma. Adoptees are twice as likely to struggle with mental health and develop depression or anxiety. Many of us have also grown up in a world where our experiences are invalidated and silenced with the remark that we all know too well: “You should be grateful.” We never said that we weren’t grateful. The adoptee experience is often overly romanticized and seen as giving a child a new life. In reality, it’s a new life that’s completely disconnected from our personal and genetic history, leaving us with no foundation of an identity.
After recently meeting a group of adoptees who grew up with the same confusion and similar experiences as me, I realized that our stories are all too similar. It immediately became obvious that no one knew how we really felt growing up. Thus, I made this project in response to wanting to give voice to the adoption community and share our experiences.
An envelope to a card for my mother’s baby shower from 2001 before I was adopted. Underneath is a book of identification from my orphanage in Changsha, the capital city of the Hunan Province of China. Inside the book contains information, both in English and Mandarin, of my (adoptive) parents and myself. This is one of the only documentations of myself in my birth place with descriptions of me in Mandarin. The descriptions are as detailed as possible, including my assumed date of birth.
Two rocking chairs sit outside my home in Jupiter, Florida. As a baby, my (adoptive) Mother used to sit and rock me to sleep. She said that I never got off “China time” and that is why I could never, and still can never, fall asleep at night. Once I got older I would sit beside my Mother in the smaller rocking chair, while my younger sister sat in my Mother’s lap. Now neither my sister nor I fit in the smaller rocking chair, and my Mother rarely sits in the larger one.
My sister, Téa Walsh, looks through the window to outside at home in Jupiter, Florida. Wearing a bracelet made out of jade beads our aunt gifted us from China, my sister talks to me and thinks about being a transracial and international adoptee. Téa is adopted from the Guandong province of China. “If I want to feel sad about something, then I can go feel sad about it. If I wanted to change that, I could go learn Mandarin. Right now I’m not going to pout over something that I’m not doing by choice.” she said.
Leaves of plants sit in jars on the window sill of my home in Jupiter, Florida. Cut off from their roots, they continue to try and grow, eventually forming new roots. These cut off plant leaves, known as scions, symbolize how many adoptees feel removed from their birth place and culture, trying to find a new place to grow and continue life. I always say that, “Blood may be thicker than water, but sometimes water can give life to a scion, allowing it to continue to grow.”
Chris von Claparede wears a replica of the necklace that his birth country gave him passed on from his birth mother. The glass necklace is holographic and has an eye on it, which is a symbol of protection. He wears in every single day. It is the only object Chris had from his birth mother. Adopted from Kazakhstan, Chris embraces his Russian ethnicity by learning the language and culture of his birth country. “Most people don’t know much about either [Kazakhstan or adoption], so I’m glad to talk about them when I have the chance.” he said.
A scanogram of Chris von Claparede’s original necklace from his birth mother. The original necklace broke when he was in Russia in October of 2018. A week later, his (adoptive) mother died. Chris says that in retrospect, he feels like his necklace breaking was a sign that his mother was going to die. “Even before my mother died, I told my friend how losing the necklace made me feel like I was losing a parent. That true feeling came sooner than I could imagine.” he said.
Clea McElwain talks about her adoption experience on a walk in Washington, D.C. Clea is a Chinese adoptee and grew up in Idaho in the United States. Growing up Chinese in a white majority neighborhood, Clea always felt like she didn’t physically resemble and fit in with the people around her. At the same time when she spent time with people in the Asian community in college, she felt like she couldn’t relate to them because she didn’t grow up in an Asian family. This is an identity dilemma that many transracial and international adoptees face. Clea has a lot of questions about her adoption. “What if they [biological parents] gave me up and then had another kid after me? That seems completely unfair in some ways, but at the same time I wouldn’t want my life to be different.” she said.
A Chinese seal stamp with my name engraved on it in its original box [L]. Chinese seal stamps are usually used to mark important documents, often accompanied by hand signatures to make a more secure form of identification. Next to it is a journal entry my (adoptive) mother wrote from my perspective on the day that we first met [R]. On the page to the left is a drawing I made as a baby.
Georgia Mounce [L] moves a piece of hair away from the face of her daughter, Gwen Mounce [R]. Georgia struggled with infertility due to her being a Type 1 Diabetic and her husband being a brain cancer survivor. Gwen is Hispanic and her birth parents said that they want her to learn Spanish and about her Hispanic culture. “It is important us to not only honor her birth parents wishes, but I believe important for her as well.” Georgia said. Sometimes when people speak to them in Spanish and they are unable to reply in Spanish, they get a look of disapproval. “I think my biggest fear is that she will struggle with her self identity,” Georgia said.
Short Documentary
Zine
Back to Top