Buzzfeed's "I'm Adopted but I'm Not..." video
In 1995, Denmark was approved to receive international adoptees from China. In the summer of 1996, a round-headed 9-month-old Chinese girl crossed the Danish border for the first time. My name is Lærke, and I am adopted from China.
Being adopted was never something that bothered me. Growing up there were only two ethnically “non-white” kids in my year group of about 100. It never mattered to me: I looked different, so what? The worst that happened was people assuming that I was good at math or Tetris (Disclaimer: I am an atrocious mathematician and a below-average Tetris player). While some argue that positive stereotypes are just as harmful as their negative counterparts, I have always laughed them off as the intentions were rarely bad.
While I have mostly avoided negative experiences, adoption has gotten me into many a strange situation. When working as a ski instructor I was the only one of my 120 colleagues who was not white. One day I walked into a full office and a girl turned around in her chair, looked at me and said: “Ching Chong” Somewhat taken aback I responded: “Sorry, I don’t speak Chinese” to which she stared at me, turned back around and continued her conversation. (I really do not speak a word of Chinese so I hope that does not actually mean anything. If it does, girl, I sincerely apologize for calling you out.)
When I travelled to England to start university, I was walking with my father who is a blond-haired, blue-eyed, middle-aged Caucasian man. We walked past a local couple. The man proceeded to smirk at my father with his missing tooth and say: “You got yourself a young one, didn’t you?”
Because of his thick accent, it took me too long to understand the sentiment to respond. However, I wondered afterwards: what exactly was he expecting to happen? That my father would go “You know it”, pop his sunglasses, offer a fistbump and move along? That I would hug my father closer and go: “Yes, Ting-Ting love white man”? (My apologies to anyone named Ting-Ting with a white husband. You do you, girl.)
I will admit that this incident left me a little shaken but, importantly, this is far from a regular occurrence. Most incidents are more funny than harmful. People will say I look like Mulan, Pocahontas, Lilo or Boo from Monsters Inc. None of this is offensive to me. I mean, who wouldn’t want to look like the girl who saved China? People ask questions with genuine curiosity and I really like answering them – if people walk away from a conversation with me more enlightened on the topic of adoption than they were before, I’ve done my job. For many people, it takes a little while for them to realize that I am totally okay talking about adoption, at which point they are able to shed the initial awkwardness.
I mostly laugh at the awkwardness of these exchanges but I also understand where it comes from. Look no further than the film industry: orphans are pitiful beings dressed in rags, whose sole purpose in life is to find their “missing pieces” (read: biological parents) and finally become whole. The Oscar-Nominated film “Lion” was all about an unhappy adoptee going on this hero’s journey. While I liked the film, I was somewhat shocked at its apparent message: that you cannot possibly be a complete human being without knowing your biological parents. With this discourse, how can you blame people for not wanting to deal with such traumatized and woefully incomplete beings?
Crucially, though I am not traumatized. I am not on a noble quest to find my “real” family. My real family is the one I grew up with, despite the fact that we do not look alike. Maybe I do not look like a Danish person “should” but in this age of globalization and migration, what does that even mean?
Of course, there are many adoptees who have a hard time with who they are and their place in the world. I cannot and should not speak for them. Just look at the video above from BuzzFeed, artfully demonstrating the variation in attitudes, even among adoptees. Personally though, I strongly believe in the following philosophy, formulated by my fellow Danish adoptee, Helene Thordsen:
“Being adopted is my special circumstance. And I know no one, white, yellow or brown, who do not live with some special circumstance that they deal with throughout their life.”
So, adoption is my special circumstance. What’s yours?