#AdopteesAre: An Interview with Katie Nolan

Featured here is katie nolan as part of the #adopteesare campaign.

Featured here is katie nolan as part of the #adopteesare campaign.

Author’s Note: This is the first of several article posts surrounding the experiences and struggles that adoptees face growing up in terms of stereotypes, prejudices, and stigmas as well as touch on the discrimination of adoptees. There will also be photos and brief descriptions attached to some of these articles, and some that stand alone, that were created to send positive messages about adoption into the adoptee and Asian American community. All these works are meant to uplift and empower adoptees by not only acknowledging the community, but also sharing their stories.

The couple upcoming posts are only the tip of the iceberg that will lead to what we are coining as the “Week of Adoptee Empowerment” starting on June 10th, which will lead to many more stories and moments of insight into the adoptee experience. Feel free to spread the word by reposting and sharing these pieces as I hope this is as enlightening and empowering for you to read as it was for me to write and work on! Thank you!

Mia: Let's start off with just talking about your adoption story then move into the stereotypes of adoption by which we can dive into it more from there. Can you give me an idea on your own experiences with stereotypes and prejudice as an adoptee? And have you experienced any discrimination of any kind and if you have, would you be willing to share?

Katie: So I was in the orphanage until I was six years old. My story is a little weird because I had a family I would go to during the weekends. What happened was that the one daughter was doing a rotation in my orphanage and apparently we had a connection, so they used to be my “foster family” during the weekend. I would go Friday night and stay with them, then they would drop me off Sunday night. The earliest memory I have is that I was adopted by two different families both of which brought me back, and then I was finally adopted like two months before I turned six years old.

See I feel like [discrimination] is a little different. Like discrimination, specifically, I feel it kind of ties together with being Asian. So, when I was applying to colleges my senior year, my two friends applied to same college as I did. We had the same GPA, the same classes, the same AP scores and SAT scores, and everything like that. Something happened [and] they didn't get back to us. So, we had our guidance counselor call them to get a decision. So, they sent our decision. I was the only one who got selected to be admitted and the first thing that [my friends]  said was, “Oh, it's because you're Asian.”

It kind of sucks. And it ties into [being that] I'm Asian but also, I feel like in a way it’s kind of discriminatory because of my background [as an adoptee]. They both knew that I was adopted so like obviously. Not saying that Asian households [are like that]. I don't want to stereotype them either, but I didn't have a mom who was a helicopter mom. She never really checked up on my grades. She never made me sign up for the AP courses. I just did that on my own. She didn't make me do all the academic things or go to specific colleges and everything like that.

And I feel like that one statement -- it tied together me being Asian. Them just assuming that because I'm Asian I'm like that, even though my mom's white. She wanted to make sure that I was mentally healthy and happy, not if I had the grades to go to college. I mean she cared about my grades, but she wasn't like, “oh let's get straight A's you know”.  

“Oh, it's because you're Asian.”

M: Yeah, your health was a priority to her. And she wanted to make sure that you were okay emotionally. I mean that's normal for parents.

K: It was just like they're really imposing the Asian culture onto my life when I grew up in a white American culture, if that makes sense.  

M: Yeah, it completely makes sense -- they tend to do that. And it's partially because they're not as necessarily educated enough about the topic at hand. They may not necessarily know your own experiences because they're not in your shoes.

The preconceived ideas that because say we were raised by, in this case, a white family that somehow, we're more privileged than an Asian American who grew up in a traditional “Asian family.”  Where do you think that stems from?

K: I think it's the culture -- like the American culture and of course, like, white superiority. Not saying that they intentionally think that but […] a lot of people view whites as the superior race. They're the ones who made America, they have the American dream, and they're the ones kicking out other people, not the other way around. So, thinking about it in that way, especially in the context of a white person's point of view, you would think that being put in a white American family is more privileged than being in an immigrant family or a family with people of color.

The issue is different culture -- it's different, but it doesn't mean that it's better.

I think it just stems from … the fact that the British and the Germans were dominating America and the world -- in all [of] history, they were the main colonizers who came in and fought for land and they won. So, I think because of that. It's just part of their culture to think that their people are more superior than the rest. Which would mean that if that person is being put into a family with their people, then they're automatically more privileged. It's not necessarily the same. The issue is different culture -- it's different, but it doesn't mean that it's better.

M: And I think that has to do with this lack of understanding. And the more we can help others to understand this, the less likely these ideas will still exist in the future.

So, coming back to this idea of stereotypes around adoptees -- we mentioned the history behind white superiority. There is a whole history with adoption as well. I spoke to you prior to this about the Korean War and the Vietnam War. How do you think those wars have impacted how American culture see adoptees?

K: I think it's because there are large wars that America was a part of and of course whenever, you have a war, the government needs to get their people into being a part of the war or they're going to have a backlash from the American people. So, then they start all those war propagandas and everything like that.

So when it comes to the fact that we're taking these adoptees [who are] orphans and adopting them into America -- I think the way that they see these wars and the way that leaks into how they see the people that we were fighting against or fighting with perpetuates the stereotype that we're saving them. And then you know with the Vietnam War, it was perpetuated a lot about how they lived in squalor, it wasn't as developed, […and] it needed to be helped by the American people.

Solely based on that reasoning and the fact that these children need to be adopted or they need to have a family -- not saying they [didn’t have] families, some of them did have families--But the fact that they didn't have anywhere to go, these wars kind of left them without a home and without a means to live. Because of all that when they bring these kids into America, they think oh look we saved you from all that bad stuff that the government fed us so that we would be for the war rather than against it.


M: It would be different if we had asked to be adopted and said I’d like to be adopted and be “saved,” but it just kind of happened and it wasn't something that we planned on happening. It was just a tough situation. The child may have been okay with where they were and to assume that they weren't isn't accurate.

So why do you think talking about all these stereotypes and how adoptees struggle with aspects like discrimination is important for the Asian American community and the adoptee community?

K: I think it's the same as anything else when it comes to discrimination or prejudice.

But if we actually stand up and speak out … then it gives more people a reason to stop and think about what is true versus what is not.

Nothing good is going to come out of just letting it happen because then by not saying anything all it does is perpetuate the fact that it's true. But if we actually stand up and speak out by saying -- that's not actually what's happening. That's not actually what's going on in our lives then it gives more people a reason to stop and think about what is true versus what is not.  It hints to people that maybe we shouldn't keep perpetuating these stereotypes about these people living in these situations. That hopefully enough people will start to listen, so the stereotypes will stop and the truth will actually come out.

M: As long as the person tries to understand, I think that's a step forward. This is especially in a world where a lot of our generation is speaking out about all these different issues -- it's like why not also talk about what adoptees are going to do and what they're experiencing? It gives us an opportunity to share our struggles as well as bring awareness to what we have experienced in the past, what we are experiencing in the present, and what we may experience in the future.

With that being said, what do you hope for people of other generations, say in older generations, to gain from our voices and from hearing what we are struggling with when it comes to all the stereotypes and means of discrimination regarding adoption?

K: Well I hope that they see us as individuals and as people. I think a lot of the problem stemming from all this is the fact that they're grouping us with inanimate objects or stuff like pets. When it's not like that at all because we're humans, and we need to be regarded in the same way concerning our mental health, our emotions, and our ability to heal traumas. As soon as other people really understand that we're just like everybody else, then maybe it will break down the barriers and will help them form a better understanding of who we are as adoptees. To help out future adoptees and future decisions to adopt.

M: Sometimes when people don't understand a person or a topic or a thing, they can feel like it's foreign. And that's where all these misconceptions build and become so prevalent. We're people too though and getting that across to a population that sees us as “foreign” because they don't understand where we're coming from is major. It would be a big step in the process of deconstructing all these stigmas – all these stereotypes and prejudices that exist in the society that we live in today. With that said, have you ever experienced discrimination or felt stereotyped as an adoptee?

K: Yeah, I have faced tons of micro-aggressions. For stereotypes, I feel like it doesn't come directly at me. It's [people] talking to me about adoption. I'm so like you're not like stereotyping me personally but they're voicing their stereotypes at me, if that makes sense. So, when stuff started popping up about the adoptee reunions people started talking to me about it and it was kind of perpetuating the stereotype that like we were saved as orphans. You know, they adopted us, and we were saved. Then also it perpetuated the stereotype that we weren't complete without our biological families even though most of us didn't live with our biological families. We lived with our adoptive parents or some people lived with the people that they were orphans with in the orphanage. So, it wasn't exactly directed towards me but by talking about it with me, it definitely felt like I was being stereotyped. I experienced the stereotypes indirectly by the way that they were talking to me.

M: How were they talking to you?

I experienced the stereotypes indirectly by the way that they were talking to me.

K: Oh, the one thing that stood out to me was how a lot of people actually came up to me saying “oh I can't even imagine being without my sister or my brother or I couldn't even imagine what would happen if I didn't live without these people.” It’s stuff like that. And it’s like well I mean, if you didn't live with them, you wouldn't know. I mean when you meet them, they would be strangers. So, I think by them asking me how I would feel they were stereotyping me as an adoptee in a way [by] putting me in this box where they thought that as soon as I was reunited with my family everything would be better and I would feel complete again.

M: I mean the idea is that I'll feel all these positive feelings once I meet my biological family, but in reality sometimes that doesn't happen to people who are reunited; sometimes it's more negative unfortunately. Those stories don't get published or talked about much because they want to hear that happy ending. By not really expressing the other sides are the other angles that people – like adoptees face at least-- it creates a very narrow mindset for those who aren't really familiar with adoption. A lot of people, but not all, don’t think that far though and because of this, that's where they indirectly stereotype adoptees. It’s unfortunate that it happens that way because there's so much that people can learn if they're willing to, especially on the topic of adoption.

With that said, was there a time when someone was pushing the boundaries of what you were comfortable with and wanted to talk about adoption because of a stereotype that they had?

K: Yeah definitely. All the time. With the whole what would you do if you like met your family is as far as it's gone. I think most of me being uncomfortable comes from the comments that they make like oh you're so lucky that your mom adopted you or you're so lucky that you're not back there. Stuff like that makes me uncomfortable because I feel like I'm happy where I am. I don't consider myself luckier than anybody else. This is just who I am, it's my life.

M: The fact that those comments still come up and adoptees still face them reminds us that there's still so much to bring awareness to and still talk about because if we didn't, then you also wouldn't have these comments. That's where bridging the gap of misunderstanding comes into play and impacts where adoptees are. So, was there anything that you wanted them [adoptees] to know that you didn't know before?

K: The best thing is for them to know that there is a large community out there. The fact that we're such a small population compared to everything else makes it hard to know that you're not alone because even when you find people it’s like very small number of people in the big scheme of everything. However, knowing that there is a community that you can go to for support and for advice, it could go a long way.

Knowing that there is a community that you can go to for support and for advice, it could go a long way.

M: Even if it's just one person too. They would feel better knowing that okay I'm not going through this all by myself and there's another person that also experienced discrimination and stereotyping too. What do you hope to see for adoptees in the future in terms of these stereotypes and discrimination?

K: I hope that with this influx of diversity in the media that adoption would come up also. I hope there's just a lot more representation for the real adoptees’ experience in terms of how we feel and think. I also hope that there's a lot more emphasis on post adoption services. That's when all these things start to kind of fail us in a way, like why the stereotypes are happening and why there's all these misguided misconceptions because there isn't a strong backing for adoptees after they've been adopted. There's not a lot of support information out there for parents or for people looking to adopt, which means that there's not any information for people who are just talking about adoption. So just being backed up or supported by an organization, specifically for what happens after adoption, could really make a difference.

M: And the more support an adoptee has, the better they will feel. It helps other adoptees and their families by having more post adoptee services provided to them. Were there any kind of last thoughts, stories, or experiences that you want to share before wrapping up this interview?

K: It's just important for people to know that we find each other and that there is a present adoptee community within an adoptee’s life. So, I think not having a community and not knowing about a community really puts an adoptee in a situation where they feel alone or feel like they’re not supported in any way. And that comes with a bunch of problems where they start believing all these stereotypes they're being told and everything that – and by just having the people around you advocate for you and finding your own community is really important in the development of the adoptee. It helps them progress through their adoption story in a healthy way.