For Adoptees, By an Adoptee.
Are you a transracial or transnational adoptee? Do you ask yourself, “how can I connect with my culture in your adoption journey?” Have you had little opportunity to interact with people that share your racial or ethnic heritage? Do you want to learn more about your culture, but don’t really know how to go about it? If so, you’re in the right place.
If you’re not an adoptee, you may be wondering how it would be possible for an adoptee to not know about his or her culture or background. For transracial or transnational adoptees, connecting to culture is a daunting task. Most times, these adoptees are raised by White families and have little to no opportunities to be around people that share our ethnic or racial heritage. While this is outside of anyone’s control, there are things that adoptees can do to learn about cultural background. Reading this article gives you a chance to learn about some of the things transracial and transnational adoptees experience on a daily basis and ways you can participate in helping adoptees connect to the birth culture.
If you learned about your culture during your childhood, you may already have an idea about your background. Because open adoptions are more common now than ever, you may have had the chance to meet your biological family from the time you were very little. You might have even been able to learn about the history and culture of your family, which is very exciting. However, not everyone–regardless of when they were adopted–may have had this opportunity. Children who do not have access to information about the biological family rely on adoptive parents and family to connect him or her with the culture at a young age. The area you grew up in and your cultural background likely played a large role in the opportunities you could participate in.
Some adoptive families attend a culture camp with the children, which is a travel experience geared towards children of a specific religious, ethnic, racial, or cultural group. The majority of children that attend these camps are adoptees, which gives him or her the chance to bond with others who are growing up in similar situations. An article about the benefits of different types of culture camps can be found here. In addition, an example of different types of culture camps can be found here.
Speaking the language native to your biological family and your culture can be one of the best ways you can connect to your culture. If you are a transnational adoptee, particularly from a country that doesn’t speak English, it can be frustrating to not be able to speak your native language. You may have been adopted from Korea, China, India, Russia, Guatemala, or another country whose culture is significantly different from that of the U.S. By growing up in America, you may have never had the opportunity to learn the exact dialect of your biological home.
There are many platforms that you can learn on, including Rosetta Stone and more. These resources are easily accessible through an app or website, meaning that you can learn from wherever you are. If you feel that you want a partner to learn with you, sharing the experience with an adoptive parent, sibling, or friend can be a rewarding experience in itself. Also, if you are reconnected with a member of your birth family that speaks the language, it can be a great way to bond with that individual.
Visiting the Town or Country You Were Born In
In some cases, you may want to visit the place that you are from. Traveling domestically or internationally comes with its challenges, but the reward of returning to somewhere that you feel connected to is worth it. Many adoptees who have traveled to the place of birth have talked about that journey online. Reshma McClintock, an adoptee from India, had the opportunity to travel back to the town of Calcutta where she was born. Creating a documentary titled “Calcutta is My Mother” along the way, she explored the area where she believed her birth mother to have lived and the orphanage she was adopted from, along with many other places relevant to her culture and heritage. By the end of the story, she discovers more about her history than anticipated. This documentary is a raw, truthful, and honest exposé of a transnational adoptee connecting to the culture. More information about her story and documentary can be found here.
Finding educational resources is perhaps one of the easiest ways to help you learn about your culture. As the number of transracial and transnational adoptees has grown in recent years, more people are speaking out about experiences through blogs, books, videos, and more. Exploring these resources can provide you with first-hand accounts of the experiences of other adoptees who have been through the same journey as you are on or are about to embark on. As an avid reader, exploring different blogs and reading books by adoptees have helped me the most. Social media accounts dedicated to culture connection for adoptees are also common on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Community organizations are another example of educational resources that can be very beneficial to connecting to your culture. Colleges or universities usually have a variety of different cultural organizations or student unions that welcome members of the community, regardless if you are a student there or not. Taking a class about the history of your culture is another opportunity to learn.
Creating Your Own Community
As you discover more about your culture, don’t be afraid to share it with others. Although it isn’t your job to educate your friends and family about your culture, it can be a very healing experience to have others support you in your journey for information about your history. I’ve also found that the more you talk about your experience as a transracial or transnational adoptee, the easier it becomes to embrace those experiences. Because I received pushback from some members of my adoptive family and friends for trying to search for my birth family and learn more about Black and biracial culture, I was reluctant to share my journey with anyone. Looking back, I realize that I was only doing myself harm by not speaking out; there are so many complex emotions that come with learning about your cultural heritage. At the end of the day, I wish I would have had a community to support me during that time.
Your community can consist of anyone you feel that you can trust to provide unbiased, non-judgmental support. Often, this may be friends of the family–sometimes even other adoptees that you’ve never met. Having someone who is willing to listen to your story and how you are dealing with connecting with your culture, both negatively and positively is so important!
Seeking therapy can also be part of creating your community. Therapists can take training courses specifically relating to the general adoptee experience, as well as the nuanced multicultural experiences of transracial and transnational adoptees. Psychology Today provides a comprehensive list of adoption therapists in the United States. Each mental health professional has a biography that details what aspects of adoption they specialize in, as well as any other pertinent information you as a potential client would need to know.
As adoptees, we–transracial and transnational adoptees–can sometimes feel like we don’t have a community. It can feel as though we are mutually exclusive from the rest of the world and even from other adoptees. Adoptees Connect, a national nonprofit organization that creates groups for adoptees to meet and “connect” with each other, provides opportunities to create the community you have been lacking. There are groups across the United States and even some in other countries such as England and Canada. A full list of group locations can be found here. Lastly, there are more specific groups you can attend along with the regular groups–Adoptees in Recovery and Adoptees Culture Connect (planned to become available in the near future).
There are also groups that lean more towards support or therapeutic model for transracial or transnational adoptees. However, very few are adoptee-only, often including other members of the triad such as birth mothers/fathers and adoptive parents. If your community has a support group that fits your situation, it could open the door to meeting new people from your culture.
Imposter Syndrome & Other Psychological Aspects of Culture Connection
Growing up, many adoptees have trouble developing a legitimate cultural identity. From experience, I know just how challenging it can be to try to learn about heritage and culture as an “outsider.” It almost feels as though you’re trespassing somewhere that you don’t belong–that you’re in a foreign country and don’t speak the language. Especially if you’ve hardly had any interaction with people from your culture, it can be extremely stressful and confusing to try and “fit in.” This experience is what I refer to as “imposter syndrome.”
Psychologically, imposter syndrome is defined by Very Well Mind as “the internal feeling that you are not as competent as others believe you to be.” You may have heard the term related to academic achievement, but it relates directly to the experiences that transracial and transnational adoptees have. If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong with people from your cultural heritage, you most likely are experiencing imposter syndrome. This can happen to anyone, at any time. Do you feel like you are constantly having to switch identities when you are around your family or when you are around others who share your cultural heritage? If you have, you guessed it–it’s imposter syndrome.
When I was growing up, I always felt on edge when in large crowds of biracial or Black people because I felt very out of place. While these situations were rare, as I never really had the opportunity to connect with more than a few biracial or Black individuals on a personal level, those encounters left a lasting impact on me. I always wondered, why should I have to feel uncomfortable around people that look like me? Isn’t this supposed to be where I am the most comfortable? On top of this, I was excluded from a lot of diverse activities, clubs, and groups because my high school refused to change my ethnicity from White/Caucasian to African American/Black or “other.” On one occasion, I even remember being taken off a list for a college tour at the University of Kentucky for minority students because I was not viewed for what I was–a minority student. I was given White privilege because of the family I was raised by.
As mentioned earlier, many adoptees choose to seek counseling because of the complex emotions and challenges each may face when learning more about culture. A therapist can assist you in processing the cultural information that you find. Cultural identity development is a common reason that transracial and transnational adoptees attend therapy. From my experience, this is one of the hardest things to process when connecting to your culture.
Overall, while trying to connect to your culture as an adoptee can be challenging, it often provides a sense of security and familiarity. It can validate your existence as a transracial or transnational adoptee, allowing you to have the freedom to be whoever you want to be. The anxiety and pressure to assimilate to the majority culture (and potentially the culture of your adoptive family) can dissipate. As John 8:32 in the Bible says, “the truth shall set you free.”
Before You Go…
At the end of the day, there are many ways you can connect to your culture. The most important part to keep in mind is that this is your quest for information, not anyone else’s. You are learning more about the history and the culture that makes you who you are–and you have every right to do so. As adoptees, we often get caught up in putting others’ needs before our own and forget to take care of ourselves. Make this experience your own and make the best of it! Happy learning!
My name is Morgan Bailee Boggess, and I am originally from Owensboro, KY, (where I was raised) and was adopted from Henderson, KY. I currently live in Lexington, KY, with my fiance, our Yorkie (Heidi), turtle (Sheldon), and a variety of saltwater fish. Beginning in 2016, I sought out and met most of my biological family. At the end of my searching, I discovered that I have, in total, 8 brothers and sisters, 20 nieces and nephews, and one godson. I graduated from Georgetown College in 2018 with a bachelorâ€™s degree in Psychology and am currently working towards getting my masterâ€™s in Social Work (MSW) with plans to get my Ph.D. in Clinical Neuropsychology a few years after that. I am a psychometrist and clinical research assistant at Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky. My research focus is looking at how forms of complex trauma (particularly intergenerational) affects the cognition in older adults. In my spare time, I write and read spoken word poetry at events to help benefit local nonprofits. I am also involved with several national diversity organizations and serve on the Board of Directors for Adoptees Connect, Inc.