Transracial adoption seems like a scary term. What it means is simple: Your adoptive parents are a different colour —and culture—than you. This doesn’t have to be a big deal. The most important thing for most waiting teens is finding that family who will love you forever, and be there for you always.
But it sort of is a big deal in other ways. It’s hard to be the only non-white face in your neighbourhood or class of white kids. It’s not even that people are racist—though for sure this is true sometimes. It’s that it’s important to see your own face reflected back at you once in awhile—and not just when you stand in front of a mirror. It’s important to know that your roots—where you came from—are worthy and valid. That your racial identity is important, even if it’s not the most important thing.
And sometimes, you know, it’s cool to be around folks who get you in a different way than your parents. Sometimes you need that, and sometimes it just feels right. Open adoption can help with this—it lets you to stay connected with your birth family. But it doesn’t always work out, and then we have to find role models and mentors who can help us connect with our racial heritage. It’s part of who we are and it’s important. No one should say it isn’t.
I don’t think of my family as a transracial adoptive family. It’s just my family. Sometimes, when I move into a new social circle, there’s initial shock. But then I explain that I was adopted from Haiti and this is my family, and we move on. Occasionally, I encounter people who project their issues onto my family, but those are their problems, not mine. I always wished when I was little and still now, that I had a picture of my [birth] family—just so I could say “oh, my birth mother has the same eyes as me” or “I look more like my dad.” Just have those things that I look like somebody else in the world. I don't have that, but I do wish I did.
I want to go back to Haiti one day and rediscover what it would be like. It's important because I want to be able, when I'm older, to put two and two together and say, “This is the complete Maddy.” I have to be able to accept that I'm Haitian. Accept that I wasn't raised there. And put both of the pieces together so they fit. My mom and dad always taught me that this is you. You have to be okay with you. Others may or may not change their opinion, but be okay with you because it's not your fault that other people are close-minded. We live in a world with a lot of stereotypes, and we have to be able to deal with that.
When you look different then your parents, it's an automatic – you're outed. You're forced to share personal information with complete strangers who you're not choosing to share it with. It's kind of a catch-22: I'm really happy with it, but at the same time I don't want to tell everyone I meet. It's hard for me to come up with a word that describes my racial identity because I know that I'm Korean – I look Korean, I look Asian, but I don't necessarily feel it. I was given up to an orphanage and they didn't have any records of my birth parents, so even if I wanted to, I don't think I'd be able to find them. But it's never been something that I've really felt I needed to do or wanted to do.
Race is always a tricky issue. Finding your racial identity is a journey towards discovering who were are, or if we fit into this race, like, do I feel Canadian... do I feel black? I've always had an open adoption and I’m so grateful. for that. My birth family and my adoptive family both have a great importance, but in different ways. In my adoptive family, they compiled this big book of all the ancestors. I was looking at it and felt so proud that my name was in it: I'm in it! But at the same time it was like there was something missing. It didn’t really feel like that was my history. I also have photos of birth mother and birth family and letters from them too. Those things are so treasured to me. Even as a child, I would keep them in a special little box and look at them whenever I felt any emotion that drew me there.
My identity with Mexico is very slim. For one, I don't go there, I don't speak Spanish, I'm not from there. I'm purely Canadian. When I look in the mirror, I just see a face, I don't even know where it comes from. My culture and where I'm from is very important to me, but kinda like a stranger to me because I don't know anything about it.
Being in a multiracial family is actually pretty interesting. I'm Chinese, both my parents are Caucasian, and my sister is half-African. So when my sister and I go out, people just think we're friends like everybody, they don't think we could be siblings. I kinda consider myself Caucasian in a way, because at school I don't have many Asian friends. I usually can't connect with them - because they’re speaking Chinese or something and I don't understand them. And also with sports, a lot of Asians don't play the sports that I play.
In kindergarten, people would wonder ‘why your mommy is not the same colour as you?’ I was always affected. It was hard in school to make friends, I was kinda embarrassed to talk about being adopted, but they already knew because they could tell by the skin colour difference. Later on, history was a bit hard to process too. I didn’t know any black history. I didn’t know my background at all. I felt embarrassed, because I was the only black kid in the class and because everyone was staring at me. I just didn’t know my identity.
I'm in an open relationship with my birth mom, but I find it uncomfortable. I know that she gave me birth, but I have no connection with her. It's kinda awkward when I go talk to her because she doesn't know my life story and she thinks that she's still my mom, but I just don't feel connected to her at all.
Mine was a closed adoption, which was usual back in the 80s. I have no connection. I do have the documents and know the birth names, and some interesting facts about that. When you’re adopted, the medical is really crucial to know, but other than that I haven't had any desire to connect with my birth family, because I feel the family I have is my family. It’s not true that you automatically have this need or desire to know your birth family.
I'm Cree. My aboriginal culture has been important to me my whole life. But there was a time when all the aboriginal people I had seen in my life were the “drunken Indian on the street” or the people in the worst part of town who were homeless. I had never seen a positive aboriginal role model before. After awhile, I started to have mentors in the culture, and it's now a part of my life.
Artwork created by Alisha H