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 Forbes: Hello, I'm here with Matthew Borginis as we talk about the misconceptions and stereotypes of adoption. To start off, Matt, tell me a little bit about your adoption story.
Matthew Borginis: Well, I don't know too much about it. It started out that my birth mother was 17 years old when she got pregnant and the father went away to do the two-year required military in Korea. So she told her parents about it and did all the necessary precautions and it was a normal pregnancy to birth. After that, I went in with a foster family for a few months, and they took care of me. They raised me from that point until I was adopted and came to the United States. I came over when I was just a few months old.
Mia: With that said, as an adoptee, how do you feel gaining and relating to the Asian American and/or the Pacific Islander community?
Matt: I don't know, I never really put too much thought into it. Honestly, I just kind of went through my own pathway, as myself less identifying directly into a community. It was only after I got older that I realized that I was not only a part of the Asian American community but also just a part of the American community. It's been a blend of balancing that out.
Mia: How's blending this dual culture been for you?
Matt: It's been fine. Later in life, it's been fine. Early on, it comes with a challenge.
Mia: What do you mean by “a challenge” when you were younger?
Matt: Early on, it's a lot of self-identity issues I think that we encounter. Once you make it past those though, you just become another individual.
Mia: That ties into my next question, did your original identity as Asian American ever affect how people interacted with you as an adoptee?
Matt: Yeah, as I said before, it was mostly early on in life. The biggest question that I got all the time when I was in school though was why don't you look like your family? It wasn't coming out of a place of maliciousness or hate. It was just coming out of curiosity. When you're in the first or second grade, kids ask questions, they want to know the reason behind a lot of aspects in life. That was the first thing that really made me realize that I was different. It stuck with me for a while. Surprisingly, I became okay with it fairly early on though. Then, there’s my story about how I didn't go to high school, so I didn't have to worry about all that crap.
Yeah, it's early on in life. That's a lot of what it was as well as wanting to know your birth parents, self-reflecting, wondering why I don't look like my parents, and so on. By having those conversations with my mom or my dad about things like that, it helped. A lot of the prejudice that I experienced growing up was more so just because I was Asian, not because I was adopted since I grew up in an all-white school or neighborhood. And well, you're different.
That was the first thing that really made me realize that I was different.
Mia: I heard you mention that you didn’t go to high school, could you elaborate on that a little and tell me how that’s affected your experience as an adoptee?
Matt: Sure, so I stopped attending public school in the middle of 8th grade to transition into alternative education methods. This was a tougher time in my life, and it wasn’t until many years later when I was able to find myself. To become the person who I am today. This affected my experience as an adoptee by reinforcing how important my family was to me in my life. They were the ones who supported me during this tough time and were the ones who truly loved and cared about me down to my very core. This was when I truly realized that family runs deeper than blood.
Mia: It truly does. You had mentioned how you came to accept your differences as an adoptee earlier than you expected, what helped you get through those struggles?
Matt: Honestly, a big part of it was my mom. It was one of those things where whenever I had a question about it, she always answered from a place of love. If I brought her a question of, Oh, why are people asking me about how I don't look like you? She was never like, I wouldn't worry about that. She would always approach the situation with a Well, here's why attitude and break it down from there even from an early age. I still have books and stuff about that, which were used to help ease the transition process for adoptees. So, I'd definitely say my mom was a big part of it.
Mia: Yeah, a family has a massive influence on how we develop and who we become because they're the people we see every day for the most important stages of our life. So, with all the misconceptions that are out there within the adoptee community and outside the adoptee community, have you ever had to deal with stereotypes or discrimination related to your identity as an adoptee?
Matt: Well, when I talk to people about adoption and have a conversation with them about me being an adoptee, the first thing that people think about is almost like a shelter dog. Then how people typically stray from adopting shelter dogs because they want to get a puppy. People always tend to relate it to that in a weird sense. When in reality, we're not dogs. We’re human beings. They also assume that I was adopted when I was older, or they assume that I have some form of an attachment issue with my current family or a detachment issue with my birth family, or that I'm angry at one party or another for what happened. Personally, for myself, it's just part of my life. I don't dislike one side or the other. I never approach it from a place of anger but from a place of love and understanding. And if anyone has questions, it's always delivering it to them in a form of understanding.
When in reality, we're not dogs. We’re human beings.
Mia: You mentioned how sometimes adoptees tend to be associated with rescue animals even if they don’t directly say it. What are your further thoughts about that in terms of the white savior complex?
Matt: I mean, I definitely know it exists. It's hard for me to speak on it too deeply because I don't have a direct relationship with that exactly. I've known adoptees growing up who have dealt with it more. Again, I think that just comes from self-growth and learning that children are not equivalent to an animal for you to save and for you to pull out of the slums with your bare hands. This is just another child you should take care of and love.
It's personal growth for the parent as well. I've spoken with my mom directly about this multiple times. All the self-growth that we go through as adoptees have families and adopters that go through that exact same growth as it comes from a place of acceptance.
Mia: All of which happens because we're human. So then where do you think a lot of the misconceptions that exist stem from?
It’s the misconception that these children have already gone through so much that there's no way they can make it on their own.
Matt: I feel that a lot of the misconceptions about adoptees stems from the misconceptions and the judgments that already exist in the American foster care system. It’s the misconception that these children have already gone through so much that there's no way they can make it on their own. That you can’t make a difference in their life because they're already so linear, and so set in their pathway – but that's not true. It might be the case for some but most are just normal human beings like you and me.
Mia: Adopted children can change for the better like any other child if you just give them the proper love and compassion that every child deserves. So why do you think it's so important to address these issues right now in today's society?
Matt: I think it's time that these misconceptions and these stigmas against it don't exist anymore. They're based on old facts, and it's hurting the whole idea of adoption and the whole image of adoptees.
Mia: Part of it is also how there are people out there who are being misinformed as well. So how can we do a better job of addressing and preventing these issues?
Matt: It's the same as any other social issue. It's having an open mind and being willing to hear people out who have experience in it. To listen to those who understand this and be willing to change your opinion or the ideas that you already have about it.
To listen to those who understand this and be willing to change your opinion or the ideas that you already have about it.
Mia: Yes, it’s about keeping an open mind. So what would you want other adoptees and Asian Americans to know moving forward about these issues?
Matt: I want people to know that no matter what anybody says about you, and no matter what people might think about you, at the end of the day, it’s going to be you who has to be comfortable with yourself. Doesn't matter if someone thinks that you're weird or thinks that you act a certain way. It doesn’t even matter if someone has a certain set of rules or stigmas against you. When it comes down to it, It's you–you have to grow, and you have to be comfortable with who you are.
Part of that is also realizing that family is not just blood-related. Family is who you share meals with, who you share memories with, read bedtime stories with, and eat holiday dinners with. Family can even just be people that are really close to you or friends that you have that connection with despite not being blood-related. I mean there are friends that I consider family because you just have that connection. The same applies to families with adopted children because, even though they're not related by blood, they share meals together, they share love, and they share conversations. That's what makes a family.
Family is who you share meals with, who you share memories with, read bedtime stories with, and eat holiday dinners with.
Mia: People don't shine enough light on that aspect. They feel like the only way someone can be family is if they’re blood-related, but in reality, it’s the connection you might have with those people, whether they’re blood-related or not, that matters most. To wrap things up, that's all the questions that I have. Were there any last thoughts or ideas you wanted to mention before we bring this to a close?
Matt: Yeah, I live my life every single day wanting to be better than I was yesterday and to grow myself as an individual. Live every single day looking forward to trying to make yourself better than you were the day before. Just live your life. Don't sweat the small stuff and be happy.