As part of our #AdopteesAre Campaign, we sat with several Asian American adoptees and talked about their experiences and some common stereotypes and prejudices that adoptees face. Jenna DeVille is a student at the Florida Guif Coast University.
Mia Forbes: To start off, could you tell me a little bit about your adoption story, Jenna?
Jenna DeVille: Yeah, I was adopted from Taizhou in Jiangsu Province. I moved to South Florida when I was 11 months and have been there ever since. Most Chinese adoptees were dropped off at the police station or found on the streets where police officers picked us up and brought us to the orphanage. There isn’t much that we know about my adoption story; no letters, notes, or anything. We don't know the specifics. All I know is that I was at the orphanage in Taizhou, and my parents picked me up at the hotel in Nanjing where the nannies, who took care of adoptees in the orphanage, brought us.
Mia: Wow, did the nannies tell your parents anything?
Jenna: The nannies just told my parents that I love cookies. My mom kept the old clothes that I wore when I was picked up from the hotel. The nannies got to explore the local area with our family and other adoptee’s families for a whole week in China after that. Then our parents flew us over to the States. I learned most of my childhood from pictures and videos taken from that time.
Mia: Yeah, that’s how I learned about most of my adoption story as well. How do you feel about navigating the Asian American community as an adoptee?
Jenna: Growing up, I had a few friends who were also adopted, so I hung out with them. I'm also thankful that my parents took me to certain festivals like the Moon Festival, and we learned about Chinese culture. I grew up with a more positive view on adoption because I had friends who understood the nuances of adoption, and parents who understood the importance of culture. By learning about the historical context behind culture, like what the women had to go through back then in terms of gender inequity and the struggles that farmers experienced because of poverty, we can understand where our background stems from.. I haven't spoken to many Asian Americans who aren't adopted, so I don't really know how I feel about navigating the greater Asian American community. However, I feel like folks in that community can provide better insight into the cultural aspects of the Asian American experience. For example, if they've been to China, they could tell me about their experiences there.
I have an immensely positive outlook on being adopted though. I always tell everyone I’m adopted because it is a huge part of my life even though we don't know the specifics. I keep conversations regarding my adoptions simple, stating that, “I was adopted from China.” I encourage people to share their experiences if they’re comfortable because although there are negatives to being adopted, there are also just as many, if not more, positives.
Mia: Yeah, I think people don't realize that there are positive aspects with adoption. At first glance, folks may only see the sad and bad aspects of adoption, so to shine a light on the positive experiences is really important. So, growing up, did your racial identity as an Asian American ever affect how people interacted with you as an adoptee?
Jenna: I mean I've mainly lived in Florida, and there aren’t many Asians here. So I've always known I was different because I'd be the only Asian in the class or maybe even the whole school. It didn't really bother me though. The only time that really did bother me about being Asian was when I got bullied for supposedly having a flat nose. All I remember was how two girls were talking about my nose and how I was different. That's literally the only thing of my 23 years that I can recall in terms of bullying, stereotypes, and discrimination. I mean I get those racist jokes here and they’re like, “Oh, you want rice?” but I feel like we all face some degree of racism when you’re a person of color.
Mia: So you haven't really faced the white savior complex or this feeling like you have to be grateful because you were adopted?
Jenna: No, I haven't really had any of that.
Mia: That's pretty nice.
Jenna: Yeah, surprisingly, I haven’t confronted much of that. The main thing I get is, “Oh, do you know anything more about your birth parents? or Do you know your birth parents? “
Mia: Okay. so there are a lot of misconceptions out there about the adoptee community. Have you ever had to deal with discrimination or prejudice? We did touch on it briefly before, but I want to elaborate on it.
Jenna: I feel like a lot of people are like, “Oh, you know your adoptive parents loved you, or, You know they wanted to give you up for a better reason.” Those are mainly the things I’ve faced, but it's been very little. Most of prejudice have been more positive towards me. I don't feel like there's been as much negative prejudice as I feel like other adoptees have confronted, and part of that might be from not being around other Asian people as much. If there was more of an Asian population in Florida, then maybe there would be more prejudice.
Mia: Could you elaborate on what you mean?
Jenna: Yeah, people are always like, “Well, you have a better life now,” and sometimes imply that our adoptive parents love us more than our biological parents which isn’t necessarily true. I feel like they're putting my birth parents down in a way, but we don't know the situation. The only people who know the whole situation are my birth parents. It feels like people are trying to make you feel better by saying these statements. Not only that, but the fact that people keep referring to the people who raised me as “adoptive parents” bothers me a little because I don't see them as adoptive parents. I see them as my parents.
Mia: Right, it's completely understandable. I mean the fact that people make these assumptions about our background as adoptees is a statement in its own.
Jenna: Right. People would also say that we were adopted because China didn’t want girls. When in truth, we could have been put up for adoption because of many other reasons like poverty. That's another prejudice we get as women who are also Chinese adoptees. Yeah, I would say those two are the main ones in regards to our birth parents and the one child policy.
Mia: Yeah, they’re both important point to discuss. So, why do you think a lot of these misunderstandings and misconceptions still exist for adoptees?
Jenna: Well, I think they still exists because racism still exists.Also there’s so many people who are not knowledgeable about adoption and the adoptee experience. People just assume that it's just a process, which in a way it might be. However, it’s so much more than that and they just don't have the knowledge of it. It might partially be because these people haven’t had conversations with folks in the adoptee community. I feel like the topic of adoption makes them uncomfortable, which leads to ignorant dialogue.
It points back to the racism, and the Asian demographic in your neighborhood. If there are very few Asians in the community, then that leaves room for people to turn Asian stereotypes into judgements towards the adoptee experience which is when people say these things. They don’t necessarily have experience with meeting people who are adopted, talking to adoptees, and understanding the complexity of the adoptee experience. International adoptions tend to be more complex because people who are adopted domestically through the foster care system often know more information. I mean international adoptees are coming from another country, and it's harder for people to realize and understand the extent of what that means. People adopted domestically tend to have more information than the adoptees from China because the laws in China are so different than in America, and people struggle to understand that.
Mia: Yeah, people often don’t think about that aspect as much, which makes it difficult for the adoptees in the Asian American community.
Jenna: Yeah, exactly. They just don't know, and don't necessarily have the knowledge of it. That's why stereotypes, prejudices and judgments still exist.
Mia: It's a shame that all these issues still exist. It’s one of the main reasons why this campaign was created. So that we can address these issues more.
Jenna: Right, and it goes along with when people bully others in a way too because oftentimes bullies act out to make themselves feel better. I feel like it's the same reason why many people say what they do about adoptees and their experiences- they want to make themselves feel better.
Mia: Yeah, I see what you mean. So, where do you think, or feel most of these issues stem from?
Jenna: I think it stems from not being knowledgeable because people are very ignorant these days. Also just what they hear in the news, by mouth like rumors and bias, and in general, they're going to believe instantly. That's the whole point. So, like I said it stems from just not knowing anything, and not doing research. They think they know what's best for us. They think they can tell us how we feel to make themselves feel better that we're adopted.
Mia: When in reality, you can’t tell someone how to feel because feelings just happen and someone else can’t control or know them in their entirety. So, how can communities do better at addressing and preventing these issues?
Jenna: Just research and asking us about telling our story if we feel comfortable instead of asking us, “Well, do you know your birth parents?” People need to ask us how we feel and what our story is, instead of just jumping to the questions. They need to be considerate of how some adoptees are because I know some of my friends don't necessarily want to talk about their story. So, it depends on who you're talking to. With being adopted, people need to understand that some people can be sensitive about their story and just shut down about it, whereas other people might be more open. If you want to get to know an adoptee, you need to be willing to open up or be vulnerable too. Then if they're not willing to share their story people need to accept that and not push for it. I think that's how a lot of people can grow. They just need to be respectful.
Mia: Yeah, it's all about respect. The same thing goes if we were part of any other population or community. You just have to treat others the way you want to be treated. Is there anything that you want other adoptees and Asian Americans to know, moving forward about these issues?
Jenna: I just want to meet more adoptees, hear their stories, and build more of a community. I know there are a lot of us, but we're just all scattered around. So, I feel like what I want to know is how can we build a better community. It’s thinking about things like, “How can we build each other up? or How can we support each other more?” I would also say it's okay to share your story of adoption because we're all kind of in the same boat, some know more, some don't know anything at all. So, it's okay for us to connect with one another and not to be afraid of what people have to judge because most of us are going through it. We understand those same feelings of doubt or insecurities about not knowing things along with feeling wanted or unwanted from our birth parents. It's okay for us to share with each other what we're feeling because deep down most of us are feeling that.Then we should all rely on each other since we've all experienced it. We have these doubts, feelings, and thoughts in our heads that can be related to and supported in a community. I know there are Facebook groups that we are in, but I would like to just acknowledge those aspects would help.