Being an intercultural/international adoptee has its challenges sometimes. People are never quite sure where you fit into the scheme of things. Are you Asian? Are you Australian? Are you somewhere in between? But how can that be? Why does she not look like her parents? Is she related by blood to her brother? WHAT IS THAT CHICK’S DEAL?
I think it can be human nature to want to categorise people into a nice neat picture in our minds, so that everything can make sense and we can go on with our day. Funny humans. And I’m just talking about the first five minutes in which we meet someone!!
I think that being ‘different’ in the way that I am has taught me to try harder not to make snap judgements or to at least keep an open enough mind (I am not a perfect person myself and still very human). I know what it’s like to be judged incorrectly based on a quick glance! It can be very frustrating when someone sees (and hears) what they want to. It’s actually quite hilarious how people are so determined to stick to their original idea of you. Gosh, they struggle as I throw them broken stereotype after broken stereotype!
I have had people of both sides of the fence (Asian people and those of other races and cultures) do this! I have had people swear black and blue that I have an Asian accent, that my name MUST be of Asian origin (it’s so not) and once I was quite shocked to find that I was collecting a custom made set of venetian blinds under a weird, invented Asian mangling of my actual name (which is Mr Unprepared’s very non Asian surname). This was all after I had taken great pains to spell it correctly for the lady behind the counter…It really is true that people see what they want to see – what a limited way to view the world!
I can tell people as many times as I like that I was adopted into an Aussie family (read: white/Anglo) at the tender age of five months old and they will still be obsessed with my “Asian-ness”. I’ll still be asked questions about my culture and my Asian family. I usually give up at that point haha. I don’t think I was born into an Asian vacuum and grew up in my adoptive (read: real) family as this little chopstick using, rice munching, child piano prodigy while everyone else just went on being Aussie around me!!! And no, those aren’t my views of what ‘real’ Asian people are like – I am just joking, using the silly stereotypes that are out there to prove my point.
I used to get very angry and hurt when things like this happened. I hated being different. I would cry over it. I would analyse it for days. I would take it very personally. It would even be hard to laugh about (although I would give it a good crack).
Now I must be older and wiser, because although I can despair at the state of peoples’ ignorance in this world we exist in, I realise that it says so much more about them than it does about me. SO much more. I feel lucky to have a front row view of what life can be like when you’re forced to think outside the box. When you embrace it and choose it. I have been known to throw a witty comeback or two in my time when someone’s really sh*tting me to tears (usually those who are overtly racist and don’t mind me knowing about the fact that I’d never be able to change their minds), but I also see that I have a great opportunity to educate those who might mean well, but have NO idea what they’re talking about! I can talk to them about my story (they’re nosy and curious enough that I know they’ll listen), share my history, show them that I am not what they first perceived me to be. I can make them think. They might share the story with their other less than enlightened friends or family, “Hey, you never know if a person is adopted or something…I once met this chick who…”
I’ve also started to laugh more. Not just putting on a brave face laughing, but genuine, OH THIS IS GOLD, laughs. Sometimes even laughs that come from a loving place (even if I sort of think someone is a bit of an idiot). Oh, bless. This poor person is digging a hole for themselves. I think I’d better lift them out before it gets too embarrassing for them. Poor love. I don’t mean that in a patronising way (at least I hope it’s not), but more in a compassionate way. They don’t know any better and who knows what has happened in their lives to shelter them from more…progressive points of view. It would be mean of me to judge them straight up too (I can save that for later haha).
Here are some FAQs/events I’ve experienced…
“Are you teaching him your language?”
Often, it’s someone speaking with respect and awe, because in their minds they have made up a story where I myself am bilingual and I am amazing and my child is lucky because he will grow to be bilingual too. All based on the fact that I am Asian in appearance. I think they’re always a little disappointed when I set them straight and let them know I am just as single-lingual (made that word up) as they claim to be.
I’m just a boring English speaker. Boo.
“What is he a mix of?”
People are naturally curious about the Little Mister’s appearance. He is one gorgeous bi-racial kid (who I never think of as such because he’s just our kid and being of a different race to Mr Unprepared never enters the equation either – we’re just a couple). People who are with someone of another race are curious about what their own future children might look like, those who aren’t exposed to bi-racial relationships are just curious. There is also the stereotyped belief that mixed race children are the most attractive, so there is a huge expectation before they’re born. When I was pregnant, I kept joking, “What if he comes out unattractive? That’ll disappoint the masses!”
I get that. I was even curious haha.
It’s just weird when people refer to my son as if he is simply a mixed breeding project. A genetic experiment.
“What’s he a mix of? What’s the dad?” (no kidding – direct quote)
Um…he’s not a dog! I so wish I’d thought faster the last time this happened. I would have said, “He’s a labradoodle.”
“Is your husband Asian too?”
I don’t know why this is important to people! I don’t know why, but some people believe that Asian people only spend time with other Asian people, socially or romantically. I am sure that culturally, ‘real’ Asians (aka not me haha) may be drawn together based on common backgrounds etc but that is not everyone! You can’t generalise like that!
I don’t even know how it is still a novelty that people of different races should be attracted to each other. I did not grow up “Asian”, so why would I automatically seek out an Asian person? Not saying there’s anything wrong with that or that other Asian adopted people haven’t done so (I wouldn’t know either way and don’t mind nor care – that’s their business).
I think some people really want things to ‘make sense’. They need to be able to categorise me. Knowing what race I’m married to seems to be a part of their ‘sorting’ process. Putting together a picture.
I would really hope that race would be the last thing people would want to know about my relationship, but oh well…
Also…NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS, STRANGER I JUST MET AT THE SHOPS!
“She speaks good English.”
This is often meant as a huuuuge compliment. I have had it said to my face often, but the occasion that took the cake was at a Subway sandwich chain. The sandwich artist was making up Mr Unprepared’s and my sandwiches separately (we are both a bit particular). We left the store and Mr Unprepared said, “Wow. I was waiting for you to start going off in there. I can’t believe you took what she said so well!”
I was all like, “Wait…what?”
I had been so obsessed with my yummy lunch that I hadn’t heard the lady say to him, “She speaks good English, doesn’t she!”
I laughed at first and joked about what I would have said or done if I had heard her comment. I then stewed a bit. She had told my husband I spoke good English. Not me. Like I was not worthy of being spoken to directly – like my husband was my keeper. That old stereotype about submissive Asian wives flown over as some sort of mail order (I know that sounds presumptuous of me but several other events have verified my suspicions over time). Like, even though I knew ‘good English’, I wasn’t going to understand a simple comment about my language skills. What the…?
That is my pet hate of a stereotype above any other. Mostly because it places me below others in my own society. Also, HE IS NOT MY TRANSLATOR.
I’ll have you know, I topped English a couple of years throughout high school…even against all those white, Aussie kids (hahaha).
“The pressure from your parents to perform well at uni must be difficult.”
OK, so this only happened once. It shocked me. It was in a counselling unit I was studying at uni. We were learning through doing. We were role playing out real counselling sessions with our classmates, in order to practice and learn important skills.
We were supposed to be practicing active listening skills and being open minded to our ‘client’s’ situations. I had chosen my ‘issue’ for the day to be about struggling to juggle a FIFO husband and my university studies, because I felt that when Mr Unprepared was home, life got so busy and I felt like I wasn’t finding the time to dedicate to my assignments and readings. I had outlined my situation and my feelings in depth (as I was prompted to do) and when it came time for her to show she had taken in what I’d said, she said, “I can see how it must be hard to meet the expectations of your parents with your academic life…”
I hadn’t mentioned my parents even once. They were not any part of the issue. I was a married adult living in my own home with my husband and juggling my own independent life. Which I had just spent ages describing.
Not every parent of an Asian person is a “tiger” parent, nor is every parent of an Asian person Asian (I’m proof haha)!!!! Nor is every Asian parent all up in their adult kids’ grilles, I imagine!! Nor is every non Asian parent NOT all up in their adult children’s grilles, by the way!
Needless to say, I quietly let my superior know that this had occurred in a session. I really hope my classmate was given a learning opportunity at that time. I hope it helps this person to be a better counsellor as they continue in their career. I do really wish I’d gently confronted her directly afterwards, but I was a bit younger and more chicken sh*t back then.
Being adopted is my unique situation that is often misunderstood, but I bet there isn’t a human being out there who hasn’t at some point had a snap judgement made about them by someone who they do not know. I think we should all try to be a little more open minded and to remember that we don’t know all of someone’s story – maybe we should wait and listen to it, as opposed to telling the other person what their story is because we imagined it that way!
I know I’m trying to live this each and every day and I hope I’m succeeding for the most part!
What stuff has someone got wrong about you before?