A quest to further define one’s identity by looking back at where we came from. (AshLynn Harrison)
A quest to further define one’s identity by looking back at where we came from.

AshLynn Harrison

Americanized: You’re Their Child?

Part of an ongoing series exploring issues of identity for students at NAI. Disclaimer: All of the stories in this series are personal experiences from first-generation immigrants and are written to express how the author perceives their situation.

February 28, 2020

You’re adopted?

Every day on the first of school, teachers take role. We hear names from every possible ethnicity. We also hear teachers botch them. My name does not identify my ethnicity by any means. While Mia means mine in Italian and Simmons is considered a patronymic surname, I myself am an adopted Asian. Chinese to be exact. The rest of my family, well they’re a wide variety of things. But they’re all Caucasian. And we are constantly reminded that I am different than the rest of them.

Matt Simmons
My parents and I in China after the adoption process. (2004)

I was 9 months when I was adopted from Yangjiang, China in Guangdong province. I get a lot of questions about my birth parents, and full honesty? I don’t know anything. There were no traces left behind, no DNA test done, no note. Nothing. The agency gave my parent’s as much information as they could, but there was nothing about my birth parents. They were told that I was left outside of the orphanage. My birth parents were legally not allowed to put me up for adoption, so there could be a number of possibilities of where I came from. To this day, I still don’t know.

October 8th was considered to be the big day in my family. My parents had gone through the long process of filling out papers and proving they wouldn’t be abusive. Everyone was all in and supported them without a doubt. They took a 14-hour long plane ride to a place where they couldn’t speak the language, thus proving to be a lot harder journey. They took a bus to the adoption center and waited for me to come out. It was a happy day for all of us. We returned home and we were met by a huge group of people, family included. Everyone who follows through with foreign adoption usually has an adoption group so we all had people who welcomed us home with open arms.

All throughout my life, my parents have warned me about the dangers of racism. I heard a story about a girl and her father going out for a birthday. At the restaurant, they were questioned. “I didn’t know you were into old men.” This comment left a reminder in my head. People assume things and they won’t be afraid to say it. I am constantly told by history books that this is The Land Of Opportunity…the doors are always open for anyone. We are all treated the same. My parents were able to protect me from the havoc that racism can bring into people’s lives. However, you can’t hold your parent’s hands through school. That’s when racism reared its ugly head and entered my life.

You’re going to experience racism all your life because people can’t accept the fact that you’re different.”

I still remember it clearly. 3rd grade. I had just transferred from Eden Christian Academy, a tiny little private school in Ross Township. It was easy to avoid comments there because it was small and it was also a Christian School so you wouldn’t be able to get away with anything. North Allegheny? That’s a different story. I still to this day hear kids yell the N-word and get away with it. Granted, a new school for a 3rd grader is pretty intimidating, especially when it’s double the size. I wasn’t afraid to say that I was adopted, in fact, I was very proud of it. One of the many projects asked us where we were from. I said China. Later that day, this kid who wouldn’t strike you as an accepting person made up a song. He sang it to me at lunch. I won’t go into details, but all in all, it was about my parents not loving me and that’s why I was put up for adoption. It stung. A lot. I talked to my parents and of course, they were appalled. They called the principle and did the typical rant. To my dismay, NA didn’t do anything about it. I thought that I wouldn’t get any more comments, at least not from adults, but fate didn’t allow it.

Matt Simmons
My Mom bought me a traditional Chinese dress for every Lunar New Year. This was one of the first outfits I wore. (2005)

Years progressed and I wasn’t as open about where I was from. I hated my middle name because it revealed that I wasn’t white. This country is constantly sold as a place of opportunity. The population of Asians in America was increasing day by day, but I was ashamed to not be from here. Any opportunity someone had to bring up my difference. It was taken. I was referred to as “someone’s little Asian friend” by an adult that worked at NA. People point out to their kids that I am different or talk to me about things that a “typical Asain” person should know. Does that make them a bad person? Maybe not, but more so ignorant. It did make me think that that’s all they noticed. Not my personality or anything I said. No. They noticed I’m Asian. My Dad said that would happen in life. That people would put a stereotype over my head because of my looks. And they do.

Never in a million years would I think that I would be discriminated against by a grown adult. Now, this particular family had a track record of not being the most accepting. Again. Same concept. The Dad, in particular, was racist, homophobic, and I’m sure many other things. I am good friends with his child and that’s how we were introduced. Obviously, the dad was not a big fan of mine. I was told by my friend that their dad didn’t want us to be friends because I’m Asian. Luckily, we are still friends to this day. My next encounter with this man was probably the most demoralizing. Many people think that only words can hurt someone. I think a look that you give someone can hurt even more. Silent but it gets the point across. I was waiting for my friend’s parents to be done taking a picture of them at a band concert. This was when his dad noticed me standing there. He looked at me, whispered to his wife, and they both gave me a look of disgust. I was told that it was probably wasn’t meant like that and that I took it the wrong way. But I was there. I saw it , I know what he meant, and I know how it made me feel. To understand, it would have had to happen to you.

Your identity is taken from you when people hold a stereotype over your head and no longer refer to you by your name but by your race ”

In America, I was supposed to be accepted, yet people still can’t understand why I came here. In return, I am treated differently. However, I would be wrong in saying that this country hasn’t given me many opportunities and I am forever grateful to be living here today. My hope is that future generations will be proud of where they come from, no matter what race you are or what you identify as. For years, I hid my true identity because I wasn’t like everyone else. As years pass by, I will continue to express my heritage more and proudly call myself an Asian.  I fully accepted that I am my parent’s child. Maybe not by DNA or blood type, and the world will tell me differently, but I know I am. I can only hope that people that come after me will be able to proudly announce that they are different.

You Are Their Child. Be proud of it.

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