Ying Ying Fry and Parents Amy Klatzkin & Terry Fry re: Chinese adoption
Recordings by Miae Kim & Michael Johnson
Disc 1 – 79:39 – 28 Tracks
Disc 2 – 52:01 – 12 Tracks
TRACK 1 – 3:27
OUTSIDE, CARS, MICHAEL & MIAE CHATTING
THEY MEET THE FAMILY
TRACK 2 – 5:01
GETTING ARRANGED (MICHAEL BREATHING INTO MICROPHONE)
CHAT ABOUT TRAVEL
THE INTERVIEW PLAN
TRACK 3 – 3:50
TRACK 4 – 3:00
MIAE: I’m interviewing Ying Ying on February 13th, 2005. In San Francisco. This is not live so just relax. Try not to make noise.
YING: I’m Ying Ying Fry and right now I’m eleven years old and I live in San Francisco and I’m Chinese American and I like to play soccer and run track. And I have two cats, one is Mallow and one is Smudge.
MIAE: What school do you go to?
YING: I go to Chinese-American international school. It’s at 150 Oak Street in San Francisco.
MIAE: What do you learn there?
YING: Well, in English Social Studies we learn about all kinds of different cultures and histories and stuff. In English Language Arts we learn about run-ons and tenses, reading comprehension and writing poems sometimes and taking your midterm in every subject. And in math we’re doing equations right now and in Chinese Language Arts we mostly do reading and stuff but we have a speech contest coming up and we have to rate our speech. And in Chinese Social Studies we have to learn about the terrain in China and in eighth grade we’re going to learn about, I think it’s the Tong Dynasty but I’m not sure.
MIAE: You learned Chinese.
YING: I learned it since I was three. Earlier I think.
MIAE: Can you introduce yourself in Chinese?
TRACK 5 – 1:27
YING: INTRODUCES SELF IN CHINESE
MIAE: What did you say?
YING: The same thing.
MIAE: Talk about your birth family. Do you know who they are?
YING: I don’t know because I was a baby and I don’t remember anything, so I don’t really know.
MIAE: I heard you tried to find them.
YING: I don’t know if I tried to find them, but if I did, I think I went to the police station and asked them or looked at my file, but there wasn’t a note so I’m not sure.
MIAE: You went to a police station in China?
YING: I think so but I’m not sure.
TRACK 6 – 3:00
MIAE: where were you born?
YING: I was born in Chung-Sha in Hunan, that’s a province and I don’t know what time and I don’t know exactly what day. They estimated the day, and I don’t know what hour, what minute, and I’m not quite sure.
MIAE: Do you know how you met your adoptive parents?
YING: I saw pictures and they came to pick me up and I never cried and we went back on the plane together.
MIAE: Where did you meet your parents?
YING: At the orphanage when I was a baby.
MIAE: Tell me about your parents.
YING: My mom’s name is Amy Klatzkin. My dad’s is Terry Michael Fry. And they do, my mom’s an editor and she goes to USF right now because she wants to be I think a therapist. And my dad does something with a company called Negsant and he goes to work every day and well, my mom picks me up and stuff.
MIAE: I think you visited China with your parents. How many times?
YING: Counting the time I was born I’m not quite sure but I think it was nine.
MIAE: Nine times?
YING: I think so.
MIAE: Full sentences? Why did you go there?
YING: The first time I went, I think it was just to see and when my friend went to her orphanage, that’s when I really wanted to go to mine, because I thought it wasn’t fair that she got to go to hers, and that’s when I decided I wanted to go back and visit my orphanage. And then I also went back with some other friends just recently last April, 2004.
TRACK 7 – 3:00
And well, we visited Beijing and a lot of other places but I’ve been to Jiangshe, Shanghai, Changsha, Shian and Hong Kong and I think my favorite is Changsha and Hong Kong. Changsha because I was born there and Hong Kong because it’s really modern and it’s fun.
MIAE: Looked for your birth parents?
YING: I’m not sure but I think we looked to see if there was a note but there wasn’t a note so we went back to the hotel.
MIAE: Do people stare at you?
YING: Not in China because when I’m in China they’re like oh here’s a mom and a dad and a kid and they look at the strong bond that we have, but just recently I went to Monterey for the weekend and this lady said that girl was ahead of me and my mom was pointing at the checkout and then my mom said she’s with me and then it was sort of funny. And the lady looked a little embarrassed. So that’s the only time I remember.
MIAE: In China people don’t stare at you.
YING: They stare more at my parents if I walk ahead. They can’t really recognize me to be with them. But if I stay with them they only stare at my parents, they don’t really stare at me.
MIAE: How do you feel?
YING: I’ve gotten used to it so it doesn’t really matter.
MIAE: What about here?
YING: I don’t think anybody stares in San Francisco because it’s really mixed and it’s usual to see stuff like that.
MIAE: Do you know other people who are young adoptees?
YING: At school I have about three friends that are adoptees and
TRACK 8 – 3:00
outside of school I have a lot of friends that are also adoptees and they’re like my normal friends. And they are my normal friends.
MIAE: Talk about your book.
YING: The name of the book is Kids like Me in China and I published it because they wanted to make a movie but my mom couldn’t do that so I had the idea of book and she said okay and because she was an editor it would be sort of easier than it would have been. And they published around when I was eight I think and I started writing when I was seven. That’s when I went back. And that’s pretty much it.
MIAE: Could you read some parts?
YING: Now I’m eleven and I wrote it when I was eight. Hi, my name is Ying Ying. I’m eight years old and I live in San Francisco. Like lots of kids in my city I’m Chinese-American. But I wasn’t born that way. When I was really small, I was just Chinese. Then my American parents came and adopted me and that’s how I got the American part.
MIAE: Can you read the poem you wrote?
YING: Here’s the Chinese version: CHINESE Here’s the English version: I like China. I hope I can go back to China. I would like to go to the Great Wall and walk a long time. Go back to my orphanage and see the little kids. I could go to Uhan and see the Yangshe River. I could go to Changsha and see my friend Lucy. I can go to Beijing and see Tienamen.
MICHAEL: Please do it again.
YING: I like China. I hope I can go back to China. I would like to go to the Great Wall and walk a long time. Go back to my orphanage and see the little kids. I could go to Uhan and see the Yangshe River. I could go to Changsha and see my friend Lucy. I can go to Beijing and see Tienamen.
TRACK 9 – 0:14
TRACK 10 – 3:00
MIAE: What does being Chinese-American mean?
C: Being Chinese-American means not being only one, not just being American and not just being Chinese because it’s important to have both. And I’ve seen a movie by Dianne Bush Eileen and she says First Person Plural, that’s the movie, and she thinks that she can’t be both but then she realizes she can and there’s nothing wrong with it and it’s better that way.
MIAE: Why are you learning Chinese?
C: Just so I can go back to China and actually communicate and not to feel because my mom knows all these adoptees, like Korean adoptees and they were wishing they’d learned Korean when they were younger, and she said it’d be good for me, because she said the Korean Adoptees couldn’t communicate when they went back and they really wanted to say something and it would be so much better if I learned at a young age and when I got older I wouldn’t forget it when I got older and it would be better, and not communicate without a tour guide or something.
MIAE: What kind of activities do you like to do?
C: On the weekends I normally do soccer and running but on the weekdays: on Mondays, I do soccer. On Tuesdays I do running. On Wednesdays I do soccer, on Thursdays I do running. On Friday, I sometimes do Girl Scouts because we only have one meeting every month at someone’s house. And that’s basically it except for reading on the weekends and sometimes going to the park and playing soccer or this tennis game “doink it” but it’s sort of broke so we can’t play it anymore.
MIAE: What do you do with your parents?
C: We don’t do much together because we don’t have the time. The only time we do things as a family is dinner but that’s it.
MIAE: Do you celebrate Chinese festivals?
C: We celebrate Chinese New Year and Hanukah and Christmas and Halloween and my birthday and
TRACK 11 – 3:00
my half birthday and regular new Year and we’re going to be in the parade and we do it every year and It’s always fun.
MIAE: Do you talk with adult adoptees?
C: The only time is probably play shop besides Kyung Eh sometimes we see her but not very often because we don’t see her very often. But when we used to see her my friends Kam and Brianna would also come and we’d do fun stuff together like going to the park. Because after play shop, when she used to be a mentor, we would play tag on the Chinatown playground and I used to see her more often with Kam and Brianna but then she sort of stopped seeing her.
MIAE: Do you like to hang out with her?
C: It’s fun. Like any other people.
MICHAEL: Is there anything special holding you guys together?
C: It’s just regular friendship I think.
MIAE: Does being adopted affect your life?
YING: Sometimes it does, like when we do, in school when we do family trees in computer class or when we do early immigrant history or something, you have to interview a family member, how they got here and how they know you. But otherwise, I don’t think it’s made much of a difference.
MIAE: Anything you want to tell other people?
YING: No, not really.
MICHAEL: Have you seen any affect the book has had from people who’ve read it?
YING: The money that comes from the book goes to the kids paying for the school. And the first boy got into college and…
TRACK 12 – 3:00
MICHAEL: At the orphanage?
YING: Yes. And then I noticed that none of the orphanage kids had glasses, which was really unusual to me because a lot of older kids have glasses now and we tested them and three people got glasses that needed them. And there’s an air conditioner where they do homework if it’s hot. And there’s a lamp I think. That’s what the book does. And then the rest goes into my college fund.
MICHAEL: Does it change how you look at the world?
YING: It doesn’t really change, but I don’t really think about it that much because I have other things to worry about.
GET RID OF CAT
MIAE: What about when you stayed at the orphanage?
YING: Sometimes I didn’t want to go but other times I wanted to play with the babies and get to know the older kids and play games with them. Because you can’t play games that you do with the older kids with the babies. And while I’m there I normally play with the babies and then I see the older kids and then I go back to the hotel and go swimming. But that’s all I do there. And sometimes with the babies I once helped change one I think but that was it.
MIAE: You met the person who took care of you.
YING: Well, the first time, when my mom just came, she recognized my mom, she said you’re the mom that adopted so and so. And she came up and recognized her. And my mom didn’t know exactly how, but my mom recognized her too.
TRACK 13 – 3:00
And when I came we had pictures of another girl that looked like me and we showed them to her and she said oh this is Ying Ying. Because we showed her pictures of the other girl who looked like me and she said oh these are Ying, where’s the other girl? And then we went back to the pictures and we showed her the pictures that were the other girl and she said that can’t be the other girl. That’s Ying Ying. And we went to her house once and she gave me a silk pink scarf that’s really small but we still have it and we keep it. And we went to dinner with her and her family and we went to the park together, blew bubbles and I think that’s all we did with her.
MIAE: Do you hope the other children will find a family?
YING: Well, if they want the forever family because two of them are going to move to the US and one is eleven or twelve and the other is twelve or thirteen or eleven or I’m not sure, but they’re going to move to the US. And once they’re over the age of ten I think they get to decide whether they want to move or not. And they chose to move so they move but only if the kids want to go they should go. Otherwise they should stay where they are.
MIAE: What is a forever family?
YING: Forever family is like a family that takes care of you and cares about you for the rest of your life, not your parents that gave birth to you but the people that actually care for you and make a home for you and stuff. And feed you. But that’s what forever family means.
MIAE: Are you going to try to search for your birth family?
YING: I don’t want to do it now, because just one more thing to worry about. And I think I’ll do it later when I’m about maybe in high school or something, when we have
TRACK – 2:33
the time to go and actually spend the whole time we’re there searching. But I think it will get boring and I think it’s really unlikely that I’ll find them because they might have died or they might have gone away to a different province and so it would be really hard. And China is the most populated country. And anything could happen to them and I’m not quite sure whether I want to do it or I don’t.
MIAE: What do you think about two groups of parents?
YING: I think they’re the same because they both cared about me. Except one couldn’t take care of me and the other could. But they both love me.
MIAE: Who are they?
YING: Oh, both of my families.
MIAE: Make a sentence.
YING: My birth parents and my adopted parents both cared about me and both loved me but one of the sets of parents couldn’t take care of me, the other could. And so they’re quite alike except for that one fact.
MIAE: Anything we should know?
YING: I don’t think so.
TRACK 15 – 2:00
TRACK 16 – 3:00
MIAE: Do you feel isolated?
YING: Everything feels the same as it normally would, but the Korean adoptees they didn’t have other adoptees ahead of them. I think they were the first ones. And once they grew up the other adoptees would come and look up to them. They were the first ones so they had to face the first problems. And they didn’t exactly live in a town like San Francisco, because they lived in a town that was mostly white and they didn’t have any Asian faces or other colored faces because that’s just where they lived.
MIAE: Everything’s good here?
YING: Yeah. Because if you go to Chinatown or you step outside no one will look at you because you’re Asian or because you’re a different color from white people because it’s so normal in San Francisco to be different.
MIAE: When you’re with your parents it’s okay.
YING: No one really looks.
MIAE: When you go to Chinatown do you interact?
YING: No, not really because they know English, so if I want something I just say it in English. Because if they don’t know one word they just say what? And I don’t want to do that. And so they just speak in English.
MIAE: Do you interact with Chinese Americans in America?
YING: Yes, like my godfather, well, we’re going. We’re going to celebrate Chinese New Year soon and that’s one way. And I think that’s, I think there are other ways but I don’t remember them right now.
TRACK 17 – 2:12
MIAE: You have friends in both communities?
YING: Yes, I have friends in both Chinese American, Chinese and American communities.
MIAE: Thanks, etc…
THEY DRINK TEA
YING YING GETS PARENTS
TRACK 18 – 3:00
MIAE: Could you introduce yourself starting with “I am.”
AMY: I’m Amy Klatzkin.
TERRY: And I’m Terry Fry.
MIAE: And what’s your relationship with Ying Ying?
AMY: I’m Amy Klatzkin, Ying Ying’s mom.
TERRY: And I’m Terry Fry, Ying’s dad.
MIAE: How you met her for the first time?
AMY: We traveled to China on ten days’ notice, during a time when the process for adoption was not very settled, so we didn’t actually know if it was going to work out. It was 1993, the end of 1993 and it was very early in the program, it was quite unsettled. And all we knew about her was her orphanage name, which was Ju Shun, and her head circumference and her weight, that was it, we hadn’t even seen a photograph. And we adopted her the day before we met her. We did all of the paperwork in China, all the notary things before we saw her. And then the next day we went to the orphanage and she was brought to us in a very cold room after a long, long wait. And it was great. She just made eye contact right away and we fell in love with her completely.
TERRY: Particularly the last part of it is the most memorable. Meeting her for the first time and just falling in love instantly, it was terrific.
MIAE: How did you decide to adopt a girl from China?
AMY: That’s right. We had gone through quite a few miscarriages and decided that what we really wanted was a child, not a pregnancy. We wanted a baby. Actually, we wanted to get through the baby to the child part. Because we didn’t think the baby part was going to be very easy. It turned out to be a lot of fun. but when we made the choice that we would adopt and that it was possible to adopt, we started working on a domestic adoption. And though it was scary we started to understand that there were positive things to having a relationship with at least the birth mother. And that it was scary. But it did make a lot of sense about why that would be a good thing to have a history, and everything else. And then oh about
TRACK 19 – 3:00
a month after we started that process we went to a conference, I guess Terry went to a conference and heard that China was now open for international adoption and we had lived and worked in China in the 1980s for a couple of years, right after we got married and we thought oh my goodness, this is incredible. We knew that the orphanages were rather crowded at the time, but China’s rules were quite clear initially that they wanted ethnic Chinese people to adopt or that you could make a special…have someone write for you and claim a special relationship to China. And we felt we could have done that when we first heard about it, but we didn’t feel very comfortable about doing that, because it was clear that China preferred same-race placement and we thought that was a good idea as well. But as we learned more about the situation in early 1993, because the laws in China made it difficult to place a baby in China at that time once that child was in an orphanage, China changed the rules to allow international adoptions of orphanage babies in a very small number of orphanages and we felt pretty okay about that. Because we weren’t part of the process of a child losing a family, that had already been done, and the one child policy at that time also applied to adoption, so families that had one child in the cities or one or two children in the countryside were prohibited from adoption, it was treated as if they had an extra birth that they weren’t allowed to have. So it was really the kids who ended up in the orphanages who were really stuck at that time. We had a lot of support from friends in China, from our Chinese teacher in particular. Chinese friends in Hong Kong and Chinese American friends here were very supportive, so we felt we had a community to help raise our child. And living in San Francisco, we felt that we could bring her to a place where she would be in the majority in our neighborhood. And in schools and things, and we felt if were going to adopt trans-racially we wanted to be in the majority where we lived and where she went to school and we felt we could do that.
TERRY: I think the part of wanting to honor her culture was really important to us. It was clear to us that making a family was good for us. We didn’t really understand before we started talking to a lot of people, what it would be like for her.
TRACK 20 – 3:00
And the people that we talked to in China and the local Chinese American community gave us their perspectives about what they thought. How would the local communities accept her and accept us as a family. And that was a really important thing because we knew she would have to deal with that for the rest of her life. And that is something we couldn’t understand growing up white in this country but knew that was something that would be important in her life and a consideration in making our family in that way.
MIAE: What is it like to raise her?
TERRY: It’s a joy to raise her. She’s a great kid and we’ve got a wonderful community of friends around us who take an active interest in many parts of her life. It’s, I’m having fun with a lot of parts of being an adoptive parents. Not living vicariously through a kid, as I think some biological parents are prone to do, but just seeing who she is or what she wants to do. And who she wants to be. And seeing the joy she takes in a lot of things she does, and that’s fun.
AMY: I’m sure this is true in raising all children, but somehow an adoptive child who’s not related to you it’s even more of a mystery. It’s like watching a blossom open and you have no idea what colors are going to be inside. And you don’t have…the whole world is open to what she could become and what she could choose to be and what’s innate to who she is, and I think that’s quite fascinating. We talk a lot about traits we see in her that we know didn’t come from us, that’s all the indication we have of her birth family and her ancestors is what is innate to her, and it’s a tremendous mystery and also a tremendous loss, because they are real people and some of them are still alive. It’s really sad that we don’t know them and she doesn’t have any knowledge or connection with them, but she, they live in her to some extent and so she’s a tremendous athlete. She was born with that ability so we can wonder who among her birth parents or her ancestors had those abilities. Would they ever have had a chance to be an athlete? Or would they have been working in the fields and never have a chance to run and run all day? We don’t have a lot of answers but we have some hints that are quite extraordinary. And if that’s all she ever has of her birth family and ancestry that’s not very much, but it is something. She does carry that
TRACK 21 – 3:00
forward. And perhaps at some point she’ll be able to make connections and perhaps not, we don’t know. But she’s an extraordinary kid and she’s got great genes and she’s really been a wonderful child to have. It’s been a real honor to raise her and be part of her life in this way. And I like her so much. I mean, I love her but I like her so much. I would really love to meet her birth relatives. I would just love to, but I don’t know if that will happen.
MIAE: You seem very open about the birth parents. Did you try to find them?
AMY: Right now we have no traces. We have looked in her files. We have gotten all of her paperwork back from Immigration service and there was nothing. Her paperwork says she was left with a note, which would probably but not necessarily have been from her birth mother. But we don’t have that note. We’ve seen some but we don’t have hers. So really there’s no trace. And no one at her orphanage has any clues and I believe that we know that to be true because we know some of these people quite well and I think they would have told us. One in particular has retired so she could tell us now and she knows nothing. What we do know is that there are television programs in China for finding lost relatives. We know what Korean adoptees are doing in Seoul and other parts of Korea and our kids will learn from that. But we’re not going to do that search for her. I think that takes over too much. I think what we hear particularly for Korean adoptees is how important it is to them to be in charge of the search. Everything else in adoption happened without their participation or consent. And search is really the first time that an adopted person gets any say at all over what happens in the adoption story. So I think it’s very, very important to have that be the adopted person’s choice. Obviously an eleven year old has very mixed feelings, she has very mixed feelings. We would if we had any clues, we would trace those clues up to the point of making a connection, but we would leave the final choice to connect up to her. I think that’s what we’ve learned from talking to a lot of Korean adoptees.
TRACK 22 – 3:00
Otherwise it’s us taking over and they’re not our birth parents, they’re not our relatives. And from what I hear from people who have searched is it’s not all…it’s not easy. I know of people who got a phone number and then went back to the country they lived in, in the west and sat on that for a year and then went back to Korea and made that phone call. It’s not necessarily something that the adoptee wants to do one, two, three. And if parents take over, of course a ten, eleven year old adoptee has no say. So we don’t want to take that away from her, but we would support her completely if she were sure and whenever we go back to China every year, year and a half, two years, sometime in that period. And each time we’re there we ask her if she wants to go to the police station and see if they have any files on her, the police station that recorded her information when she was found, and so far she hasn’t wanted to do that. And she does know from some movies from China about these television programs. She’s not ready to do that yet and that’s fine. I don’t want to take that over. I think she has a lot of mixed feelings. If she ever decides she wants to do it and wants our help, she’ll have it. but we’ll be working for her then.
TERRY: That’s a pretty good summary of where the story is as far as we know it, and giving her control over that part of her story and that part of her life is something that we both feel is really, really important. And she has a predictable ambivalence that adopted persons of virtually any age might have. It’s a big thing and a scary thing to confront that loss and to go chasing after it.
MICHAEL: How did it originate? She did write about it in her book.
AMY: Yes, well, exactly, yes. I don’t know if she talked about Dianne Porshet Leam’s film, but that was really the beginning and she saw some of Dianne’s film when it was just a ten-minute treatment and was fascinated with it. so yes, she did want to do something like that. Although knowing that she didn’t know any relatives in China, so she couldn’t do that story. She did want to…
TERRY: I think she wanted to explore her story. To know more of it.
TERRY: and to understand it more. And I think
TRACK 23 – 3:00
that’s what comes out a lot in her book. It’s her story and yet it’s the story of tens of thousands of children like her.
AMY: Also I think for the orphanage children, at seven and a half when the photographs were taken, which was her first trip back to her orphanage, she had seen some others but she hadn’t seen hers. I think it was a really powerful experience to be with the babies, but not an experience you could articulate very well. But she went over and over again to the room that had the babies that were the age that she was, four and a half months, when she was adopted. And she would just stand and hold on to a crib and she just like a shadow would pass over her face. And she certainly couldn’t have articulated it then, I don’t know if she could now, but it was certainly very powerful to be in a room of thirty four-month olds who have lost their families and everything that they were born to. It’s very, it’s powerfully painful to someone like me, and I never experienced that, so on some level that was just a gut experience of connection and alienation at the same time, just overwhelming. And the easy parts were hanging out with the toddlers, because they were a lot of fun. they live totally in the present. And so they have a good time and they’re in a good mood and they feel good and somebody’s there to play, they have a great time. With the older kids, she was really fascinated with them. She saw their independence, their responsibility, their connection to one another. And she was very particular in the book, when she was going over the typescript, to be sure that nothing sounded like she felt sorry for them. In fact she really, really admired them. And I think at eight years old she didn’t have the ability to think oh my goodness, they don’t have a family to care for them. No, what she saw was this great group of kids who are a lot of fun to play with, and no parents telling them what to do. And that was very much her view of it. it’s not our view of those kids. We look at those kids and some of them are so charming and so appealing and such great kids and it just hurts. It’s not a good thing to grow up without a family. It’s not a good thing to have to raise yourself and have to care for other children with hardly any adults around to take care of you because they’re busy taking care of severely disabled kids and babies and you can feed yourself
TRACK 24 – 3:00
so off you go. They really are not intentionally neglected, but they’re really on their own. And that’s an adult point of view, it’s not what she saw, and I still don’t think she sees them that way. she sees them as incredibly competent children and she has a lot of admiration for them. And that was something she wanted to get across I think. And also the sense that China’s not just an orphanage. It’s a place where there are lots of kids who do have families and live in their families and life in cities is pretty modern for a lot of kids and not alien. She wanted to make that connection that even though it’s China and even though they speak Chinese, that their lives are a lot like her life, and that was an important point for her to make I think.
MIAE: Some adoptees don’t care about their birth parents. Why is it important for her to find her birth parents?
AMY: I don’t know that she will decide to search. I suspect, my guess is she will search, because she’s that sort of person. She thinks a lot about difficult things, and to confront parents who brought you into the world and chose not to raise you is confronting something very difficult and painful. My guess if I had to guess is that she will try to do that but she may not. It’s not for everybody, not all adoptees do it and choosing to do it doesn’t mean you’ll succeed, doesn’t mean you’ll find anybody, doesn’t mean the reunion will be good. So there are lots of things that are difficult, even for adopted people who really want to meet their birth parents. If they search and don’t find, just the fear that they might search and not find can keep them from searching in the first place. I think it’s quite fraught and I’m not sure that she’ll decide to do it. but I think that whether she searches or not it is our job as parents to not just adopt and embrace the whole child that lives with us and some of that person is what she was when she was born. She brought a
TRACK 25 – 3:00
genetic inheritance and a history of humanity on this earth that she represents. Even if we don’t know what it was uprooted from we can find traces of that. And that I think is very important for us to bring out when it shows up. Because otherwise we’re asking her to cut herself in little pieces. She, we have a tremendous impact on her growing up in this family and this city and this country will have an enormous impact on her life. There’s no question about that. But it doesn’t account for one hundred percent. And we adopted all of her and we value all of her, not just the parts that we can influence. And we want to make clear that all of it is valuable.
TERRY: Not knowing what her choices will be in the future, we’ve tried to make all of those choices possible by constantly talking about her birth family as real people that still exist to our knowledge. And not to set up the possibility of false choices, that she would have to choose between the family that raised her and the family that gave birth to her. We’re each important parts of her life, and I think for some adopted children it becomes a difficult choice, but I think it’s a false choice. And I think by making her birth family real in our conversation, the way that we talk about her, herself, we hope that she doesn’t have to make that choice out of fear for alienating us or for some other artificial reasons. And whether she chooses to search for them, whether she finds them and chooses to have a relationship, those are things that she’ll have control over with full knowledge that they are a part of her.
AMY: Also, I think it’s common for all children to some extent but particularly adopted children, to try to protect us, the parents. They don’t want us to be upset by their secret thoughts, they don’t want to hurt us, and it’s not just that. These are kids who have actually lost a set of parents and they know it by the time their six or seven, and they know it. they’re not going to risk losing another set. So if they have even a magical thinking that if they let mom and dad know they’ve been
TRACK 26 – 3:00
thinking about their birth mother that somehow that would be disloyal, they’re going to protect us from knowing that and just stuff it under. And it’s too difficult to process those big, strong helpless feelings all alone. So we don’t talk constantly about it but we do, every few weeks when something provides the opportunity to put it on the table, not just to say yes, this skill or this talent, you didn’t get this from us, this came to you through your genetic inheritance, blah, blah, blah, but also to be able to say through that we can deal with this, we can handle this, you don’t have to hide this stuff from us, because really it’s so difficult for children to have to deal with such enormous loss on their own. And there’s nothing bigger than losing your parents as a child it’s just so big. And it doesn’t matter whether they remember them or not. They know, by the time they’re six or seven or younger, they know that they’ve lost the set of parents who brought them into the world and they know enough about society to know those are the people who are supposed to risk their lives for you. They’re supposed to give up everything for you and they didn’t. that’s very painful and our job as parents is to be there for the good and the bad and the difficult and the happy and all of it. we get all the happy stuff, we should also be there for the tough stuff. And their, that early experience was not a lucky one. And it will affect all these kids to some degree in different ways, but just all of them forever. It’s a life-changing thing whether they remember it or not. Which isn’t to say I think they’re doomed to have a terrible life. They’re not. All human beings have to deal with grief and loss, that’s part of being human. What’s different for adopted children is also different for children whose parents die when they’re very young. That is that they have to deal with these tremendous losses before they’re old enough to really understand what’s happened. And it’s hard enough to deal with losses of this kind when you’re all grown up. They need us to be able to shoulder some of that burden while they’re growing up.
TRACK 27 – 3:00
MIAE: It must be love. You are exposing yourselves to Chinese culture. Is it for her?
AMY: Well, we lived in China a good ten years before we adopted her, so a lot of this stuff we’ve had for a very long time. We have our own relationship to China and our own place in China, though it was a different part of the country than where she came from. What we’ve done is adjust our connection. We haven’t been back to the city where we lived for quite a few years now because we want to learn more about the part of the country where she’s from and also to help her establish connections and friendships, people that she sees over time and can build relationships with, in the part of China that she came from. So yes, both really. But I think our interest in China would be there whether we adopted her or not, and it will continue to be there even if she wants nothing to do with China or Chinese things because that’s part of our life too. So we have a separate and a collective interest.
TERRY: Just to reinforce that. We started out with a very firm connection to China and it was that connection to China that tipped the balance for the adoption plan that we had when we heard that adoptions were available in China to Caucasian parents. It just tied together a lot of parts of our lives and made it very easy for us to do that.
MIAE: Other adoptees say their parents ask them to go to cultural events and they withdraw. Ying Ying seems content and to go easily among societies. Is that right?
AMY: I think it’s a lot to do with where she lives, because this is a multi-cultural city and we live in a Chinese, largely Chinese neighborhood. At least for families, the kids around here are largely Chinese American. Most of them speak Chinese at home. Some dialect. All different dialects. And English out in the world. And also the school that she’s been in since she was three, she’s been in a bilingual school, Chinese American International School, and I think
TRACK 28 – 1:43
one of the things that’s most wonderful about that school is it’s not all Chinese kids there. It’s quite a good mixture. There are a lot of biracial kids and a third of the school is not Asian at all. They all speak Chinese. They all spend half their day studying in Chinese all their subjects, so it’s not just a special torture for people with a Chinese heritage, it’s a world language, like French or Spanish. It’s a language a child can learn and study the whole world in. so it normalizes it in a way that is difficult if you only go to after school Chinese programs. We’ve been very, very lucky to have that. And she also then has a cohort of kids, some of whom are Chinese and some of whom are not, who all have the same experience. And I think that’s been a tremendous grounding for her. That she’s grown up with the Chinese children’s stories. it’s a piece of her childhood that came along with her from childhood and that was delivered to her by a community of Chinese people who had grown up in Taiwan or the mainland and had come to America and grown up as Chinese people here. So I think she’s had a huge, it’s had a big impact. What it will be like later when she goes out into the world and not everybody speaks Chinese, it’ll be interesting to see, but I hope it’s given her a solid foundation of being Chinese in this country and trying to make that work.
END OF DISC 1
TRACK 1 – 3:00
AMY: I think when we talk about Chinese culture in the adoption community we have to be really careful because culture is a learned thing, it’s not innate. And it’s not whatever you want it to be. You can’t teach a language that you don’t speak fluently. And you can’t pass on a culture that you’ve never lived. Which means that if we want our kids to have some connection to Chinese culture we have to connect them to Chinese people. And a lot of times white adoptive parents get very, very excited about Chinese culture for their kids, but it’s created in a context where the vast majority of adults are white and a few Chinese people, usually immigrants, are imported into that gathering to give very stereotyped Chinese folk things – paper cutting or Chinese dance or whatever, and never outside this range of very folkloric, museum culture kinds of things. That’s not Chinese culture. There are many ways to be Chinese in this country, none of which I can be. None of which white parents can be or can deliver. There are lots and lots of variations on being Chinese in America. But it really needs to be delivered by someone who has lived that and has chosen a way to be Chinese in America. Either to carry on lots of traditions from their family’s history or selected traditions, whereas others they don’t like so much and don’t carry those on, or none. That’s also a way that people are Chinese in this country, speaking only English and not really celebrating holidays. All of those are possible but they come in the context of a family and a community and we white parents can’t just make it up, and get together with one hundred or two hundred or five hundred Chinese children in the center of a circle with white parents all around and dress them up in Chinese traditional clothes and have them do Chinese dances and call that Chinese culture. It isn’t. it’s some kind of, it’s a collection of white stereotypes of China’s culture that are completely removed from a living culture, and I think that’s not going to do the trick for our kids, because sooner or later they’ll grow up and they’ll leave and they’ll go off to college. And in this country that means they’re going to be around Asian students, and they’re going to find out that what they’ve
TRACK 2 – 4:29
learned that is supposedly Chinese doesn’t ring true for anybody that they meet. And that concerns me a lot. I think that’s not going to feel very good. I think we have to…our children need Asian American, Chinese American adults in their lives. A variety, there are different ways to be Asian in this country. They need role models who are adults who have grown up in families that have brought traditional practices to this country and lived them in whatever way they lived them, so our kids have some choices that are grounded in real life. Particularly in this community, not every Chinese girl wants to do Chinese folk dance. What if your child wants to do ballet, classical ballet? Well, that can be done in a Chinese context in a city like San Francisco, but white parents tend not to look for classical ballet in the Chinese community. They tend not to look for western classical instruments, although gazillions of Chinese American kids play violin and piano and all that. It wouldn’t be hard to find a Chinese American or Asian American piano teacher. But generally speaking white parents won’t think of those activities as Asian American activities, and then you have to say well, what does that say about our children as Asian Americans? They need the full range of possibilities that any other American child has. They shouldn’t be pushed into stereotyped activities or kept from traditional Chinese activities. They will develop likes and dislikes. And in places like San Francisco or a handful of other cities in this country where there’s a large enough Asian American community, whatever your child’s interests are can be found in that community, which puts them in touch with other kids who look like them, who are doing those things, whether it’s soccer or ballet or piano. It doesn’t have to be a folk art. That’s not how everybody lives here. So I worry about that piece and I also think we white parents tend to think of Chinese identity as something that belongs only to China. It’s scary to think that our children will be a different kind of American than we are but they will be. Even if we protect them from that while they live with us, they can live in the white world if that’s what we choose to do with them. But sooner or later they go out into the world and they are a different kind of American than we are. This is a very race-conscious society. Nobody will accept that they are white children, white young adults when they go out into the world. And we need to prepare them for adulthood in every sense. And that means they need to know who they are. And a lot of kids grow up in white families and go out into the world and only then begin to think oh my god, look at that face. What does that mean? And that means they’re starting that search at eighteen, nineteen. That’s really sad. So I think we have to embrace really a triple identity for our kids. That is, they are American of whatever form we happen to be, sometimes more than one kind, and they’re entitled to participate in our cultural inheritance as well. And the mainstream American culture, whatever that is, however we participate in it. They are Chinese born. They are entitled to recognize and honor that heritage that is theirs. That is where they were born, that’s where they come from. But also their Chinese-American, Asian American identity. That’s a piece they’re going to have to develop and it seems to be the one that’s hardest for white parents, the most threatening.
TRACK 3 – 4:02
MIAE: Ying Ying seems to be protected. How do you prepare?
AMY: It’s tough. You know, in some ways it’s so great for Asian American kids in this city, if they’re in a school where they’re the majority they don’t have to deal with that kind of overt racism as young children and that gives us time to teach and to give them some skills. But Terry and I, as white people in this country we don’t have that experience to give. So what we do is for Ying Ying the real teachers on that front are her godparents who are American-born Chinese of multiple generations and they’ve looked this stuff in the eye. They grew up here so they know that as a child it feels pretty comfortable most of the time, but they’re also very clear about what happens and it’s important to them to teach their daughter and also their goddaughter what racism is like for Asians in this country and what the history of that experience is. So again, this is something that we can talk about, but we can’t really teach that because we haven’t experienced that. We didn’t have to negotiate that here. We did have to negotiate it somewhat in China, but I was just talking about this with a Chinese friend: it’s different when it’s not your country. We were in China for a little over two years, we always knew we were leaving. If people said nasty things to us, it wasn’t in our primary language, it was in our secondary language. And it wasn’t our country, and there are lots of ways that experience isn’t the same as being a minority person in your own country and being treated in a racist way. so while it gives us some insight into what happens when people call you names and hear parents say if you don’t behave the foreigners will eat you or whatever it is, it doesn’t have the power it has if it’s your own country and your own primary language that these things are being said in. so yes, kids growing up here in San Francisco or growing up in Monterey Park or growing up in Hawaii, probably do, as Asian kids, experience less racism than in other parts of the country, and I hope that it gives them a chance to get on their feet and be proud of who they are before they get it knocked out of them. But I think it is important for them to be prepared for racism when it comes, and if that’s put off a few years maybe they’ll be better at handling it. But again, I think you need role models who have lived it. And who have good strategies that they’re teaching their own children to be the teachers for our children.
TERRY: Yeah, I’m fine.
MIAE: It seems like you’re learning a lot from Korean adoptees. What have you learned?
TRACK 4 – 13:10
TERRY: I think one of the most comforting things to us is the knowledge that other people have been here before, and that particularly a lot of the Korean American adoptees are making themselves available to tell us what it was like for them if we’ll only just listen. And they’re able to articulate things that our children, at adolescent and pre-adolescent range can’t say to us yet. These people who, the history of Korean adoption goes back fifty years now and there’s just a tremendous amount of embodied knowledge that is telling us things that are important. That race is important, that being open about adoption is important, that the culture is important. And just forming all those types of identity are really important. We’re listen to those things. That simply loving a child is not enough. When we made the choice to take a child out of the country of her birth, we took on a responsibility and we take that as an obligation to bring her up to understand who she is and all of that, instead of shying away from that elephant in the living room. And that those are some of the things that we’ve gotten from the trans-racial, international adoption community. Mostly from the adoptees. I think their experience of adoption is something that we can’t know. They can tell us all the things that their parents did wrong, or they wished they had done differently. The parents are open and they’re the ones, actually there are quite a few that are trained adoption professionals in counseling and are extremely astute in their observations. And yet what they can say is here’s the things that I wish I would have done differently. And we just soak it up like a sponge and try to do things that will make it a less bumpy ride for our kids. And one of the things that’s a very important thing we’ve heard is to know we can’t solve everything. That there’s a time when we can only listen and support our kids. When they’re dealing with some big issues that as parents we would love to be able to fix, but we can’t.
AMY: I was thinking in particular of direct information that’s come from adult adoptees to our children, both in personal interactions in groups and workshops and things, just incredible generosity of spirit. For Korean adoptees, they don’t have to do it for us. But they don’t have to do it for our kids, they’re not Korean, but there’s a compassion and a real desire to make it easier for the next generation and to help the next generation cope with the really big unfixable things. I value that so much and I know that our children will too. They kind of take it for granted now; I guess that’s the way it should be. But even things like Deanne Buche Liam’s film. She taught Ying Ying that she has two real mothers. That’s from that film. And she used to, at six or seven she’d stand in front of the TV with that tape going and there’s a section where Deanna’s first with her American mother and her American mother says oh, I just raised you but she’s your real mother. And then in the next scene she’s with her Korean mother and her Korean mother says oh, I just gave birth to you, she raised you, she’s your real mother, and Ying Ying would stand there and say “they’re both your real mothers!” What a gift. What an incredible gift that is. Because in the societies that we live in, east or west, everyone tells children you have only one mother and that’s not true for our children, they have at least two. Some have more. But to have a beautifully-crafted film like Deanne’s and some others that we’ve seen. But especially that one, because it spoke to a very young child who couldn’t sit and listen to all the talk, talk, talk, but she got that. And that was one of the most important messages of that film, that they’re both real. And our kids are entitled to own their whole selves and all of their families, both or all of their families. And I think we would not have gotten there on our own or it would have taken us a very long time without the experience of the Korean adoptees and their openness and their willingness to come out and tell their truth. A lot of times that’s hard for us parents of younger kids, it’s really hard. We don’t want to hear that it’s like that. It isn’t really horrible for everybody but for some it has been horrible, and I think for my part, I want to know the whole range of possibilities, because I’m sure these were all adorable, cute little kids too. And we can’t predict which of our children are going to have a really hard time in adolescence and early adulthood. We just can’t know that up front. And I feel as a parent the better I can understand the whole range of what I hear, including the really difficult stuff, that I’m going to be able to be there for my child, whatever she is going through. That she won’t have to be perfect. She won’t have to be completely happy with her life. She can spend some time raging if that’s what she needs to do. There’s plenty to rage at. And I think I’ve learned a lot from the difficult testimony and I hope that it’s not that hard for my child, but I’m not convinced that it’s simply a generational thing. That these Korean adoptees went through it and our kids won’t. I think some of our kids will; we just don’t know which yet. There’s some really hard things about this way to be brought up in the world and some kids are going to have a hard time with it.
TERRY: One other little thing that we’ve gotten: and that is, in the same sense that it’s important to have an adult role-model who’s Chinese, who’s Asian American in our daughter’s life. It’s every bit as important to have an adult adoptee as a role model in her life, someone who understands what it feels like to be adopted and who can talk with her about yeah, I know what it feels like. It’s every bit as important for that part of her identity to have a role model as an adult, a successful person who she respects who understands a part of her in a way that we can’t, because we haven’t been there, and that’s another thing we’ve got from that community.
MIAE: Adopted kids said they wanted to tell adoptive parents to tell their kids they were adopted. Why did they say that?
AMY: These kids are growing up in San Francisco with a lot of, they know same-race adoptees and in some cases, I think they all know kids who were adopted from China in same-race families who don’t talk about it, so in some ways they do, it’s different here. That quite a lot of Chinese Americans in San Francisco have adopted from China and that’s quite different from their Korean experience. I don’t think there were too many Korean Americans adopting from Korea. Maybe that’s changing now, the numbers are quite large. So our kids are in school with kids they know to be adopted in families where they can pass, and a lot of families do try to hush hush and then the kids wonder what’s wrong with them. What’s so bad about me being born in China? And why do my parents tell people I was born in San Francisco? Why do they tell people I was born to them? It starts to feel like it’s shameful. So that’s my guess of why they were saying that. I wonder if kids in some other part of the country would say that. And if they would, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because we value openness. But when you’re a trans-racial family, it’s on the table. If you don’t deal with it, it really is that elephant in the living room. You have to deal with it because it’s right up front and maybe that’s why. Maybe they know kids in trans-racial families where the parents – there is this kind of myth that you’ll hear sometimes from adoptive parents that oh, color doesn’t matter. That’s nonsense and they wouldn’t be saying that if they weren’t white, because nobody else thinks that as far as I can tell. But there is this, there are some parents who say oh, she doesn’t look Chinese to me, and that’s a real scary thing because we have to find points of connection with our kids. Of course, the ways we’re alike really, really matter and bind our kids to our families and us to them and them to us. But they don’t cancel out the differences. And if you ignore those differences or try to cover them up, you really are risking putting space between yourself and your child. Especially as they get older, they just won’t tolerate that anymore. So I guess maybe it’s some of each. Maybe they’ve heard some of each.
TERRY: I think also there’s a bit of practical advice in giving the parents comfort in talking about adoption and adoption issues. It’s one of the things that we heard, one of the very first pieces of practical advice that we got from our agency. When you come back and your baby’s in the crib, talk to him about his birth mother. Not because they’ll understand it, they won’t. But you’ll get comfortable with the idea of it, and I think a lot of adoptive parents in their own mind perhaps because of the route that they got to adoption by going through a painful route themselves, they assign some pejorative values or some negative values to adoption. Society attaches some stigmas to adoption – it’s not a normal or a natural family, and by talking about it, it just becomes more normal for everyone and a lot more comfortable. It’s easier for the kids to understand that it’s a part of them that they needn’t be ashamed of.
MIAE: How old was Ying Ying when you adopted her and how did you bring up the subject of adoption?
TRACK 5 – 4:56
AMY: She was four and a half months, so she didn’t remember anything. When we adopted her she was four and a half months old so she couldn’t talk in any language. So we practiced as I think many parents practice we told her the story of her adoption. And somebody was an adoptive parent who had adopted somebody from Romania a few years before we’d adopted and I met her online a long time ago, and she gave me this great advice that I was very lucky to run into because I wouldn’t have thought of iTERRY: and that is that we must start the story of our children’s lives when they were born, just like everybody else. Because a lot of adopted kids at six or seven years old think they were never born, they were just adopted. Everybody else knows that they were born and they were adopted. And that gave me a structure to start her story always with growing in her birth mother’s tummy, is how I used to say it. It doesn’t mean anything to an eight-month old baby, but it was great practice for me. And that way as pieces of the story made sense to her as she grew older, there was never a time when the story suddenly changed to include this person. It always began with being, growing inside her birth mother’s tummy and getting bigger and bigger and bigger until she was ready to come out and boop, she was born. And then there were ten weeks and we don’t know what happened because we don’t have any trace of that. Maybe she was with her birth family and maybe she was with some other people. All we know is they took really good care of her. And then, and we know that because she’s incredibly healthy. She obviously had a good start. Good genes and a good start, she was very, very healthy. Then we know she was at the orphanage for ten weeks, and we know a certain amount about that, and then we talked about we started the adoption process and we waited so long and all that. But kids love to hear the story of their beginnings, whether it starts with mommy rushing to the hospital in a snowstorm or in our case, we just, I had just gotten that excellent piece of advice to start the story at birth, just like every other child. And that would have taken me years to get to that. Really, years. I would never have thought of it myself. So I thought that was really great. And by talking about that before she could possibly understand it made us, it gave us years of practice with this stuff so by the time she started to understand, and really kids can’t understand adoption until they can understand the fundamentals of reproduction, that there is a mom and a dad involved somewhere to bring them into the world and it wasn’t us, there’s not some moment when suddenly they realize that there must have been someone else involved in their story somewhere. It’s always out there and I think that way kids ease into their understanding. But it’s never over because at each stage of cognitive development they understand their story in a different way and they have to re-interpret it and rethink it because it gets denser and richer and more difficult as they get older. And I think maybe it takes being an adult to really understand how a grownup could have such a difficult problem that they could choose not to raise a baby born to them. I’m not sure that’s something a preteen or teenager could possibly understand or forgive. Not really. Because everything tells our children that their mother who brought them into the world should have done anything for them. And so I think it’s a lifelong thing. If it isn’t half a life it’s a whole life, to really come to terms with the difficulties of that story. That’s the real story, that‘s the real thing. And it’s not like our kids are doomed to misery because they had a really rough beginning. At the same time, that really rough beginning changed everything. They would be completely different people, and that starts to hit them around this preteen age. It’s not just that they would be speaking a different language. They would be a different person if they had grown up in their birth country. And that’s a big, big thing to try to grasp at this age.
TRACK 6 – 2:41
MIAE: Can we talk about the FCC?
TERRY: FCC is Families with Children from China. The first chapter of FCC started back on the east coast. Several other chapters started up as adoption from China became more prevalent. There are more than a hundred chapters in North America now, so it’s quite widespread. It’s essentially a network of families. Most of these started out finding each other through adoption agencies and through webs and the ability to talk on the internet. And from starting as a network of families, most started with the ideals of providing resources to themselves, for families that are looking for more information about adoption, either ones that are considering adoption or that have adopted children and are looking for resources, answers, connections to communities. It’s a network and starting very soon after some of the first FCCs were incorporated as nonprofits a lot of the families started giving back to China as well. And there’s campaigns that FCC has organized jointly to send money back to China to help out in some of the orphanages that are short on resources. Many of them are overburdened and things that the FCC community can do to give back to the children who still remain in orphanages has been a really heart-warming story. It’s one of the things that those connections has allowed Ying Ying to channel royalties from her book through those same connections to pay for the fees of schoolchildren in her orphanage. Those are some of the things FCC has enabled, to make some of those connections.
MIAE: Talk about your visit to China.
TRACK 7 – 6:09
AMY: Actually, there is something interesting about taking her back to China. We wanted to take her back often, early and often, partly because we wanted China to be a normal place to her that was the first thing. It was a place where we had lived and we knew lots of families that lived there and we didn’t want it to be some big, scary, horrible place. We love to travel; Terry was traveling a lot for work at that time so we had gazillions of frequent flyer miles. It wasn’t a hardship to go overseas. And as soon as she had an American passport at age four we took her back for the first time. Also at age four we thought she might possibly retain some memories and China was changing so fast in the early to mid-1990s. We just wanted to have some baseline pictures of her in the country while it still looked sort of like what it looked like when she was there. Because that’s not what it looks like now, not in the cities. But at that time she was very frightened that, she was aware of the birth mother thing very early and at four she was really scared that somehow her birth mother would find her and take her away, which is the typical fear at four, five, six years of age. Now, of course, her birth mother would come and take her away and her life would be perfect. That’s the ten, eleven year old thing. But at four she was quite frightened of it and so we said well, we’re not going to the part of China where you lived, we’re going to visit our friends. And we talked a lot about what we were going to do when we got back. And so she went and she had a great time. She was already bilingual and it was real exciting for her to hear Mandarin coming out of loudspeakers and out of people talking around her and children’s songs that she knew from school and she felt really cozy. We had friends who had kids who took a great interest in her and she went on rides and she just had a really good time. Went to the zoo and…
TERRY: She felt entitled and she still does.
AMY: She just really enjoyed it and we hung out with families that took her into their homes and included her. And then we’d send her out to play with the kids. She didn’t speak that much Chinese then but she understood everything, so we could just let her go with the kids. So we wanted to let her have that as the first experience. And when we dealt with orphanages later, we didn’t take her back to Hunan, to her orphanage until she wanted to. And that was after Deanne’s film had come out, she’d seen it a couple of times, and she wanted to do that. She did come with me on a trip to see some orphanage assistance projects in another province, and I think at those orphanages I think the scare went out of them. At that age, again, kids don’t walk into an orphanage and think my god, no parents. They just see a bunch of kids having fun because they only see them for an hour at a time. She went into four or five orphanages in Hubey province and there were kids and they were playing and they were seeing and they had a little preschool class and it looked normal to her. She didn’t think about how they didn’t go home at night. She just saw them in the present and that was enough. So that began the process of I want to see everybody at my orphanage. And then once we did it once we had to come back the next year and bring everybody the books and we’ve taken other families who’ve adopted from Chang-Sha and other places and taken them back. And we try to take families out into the countryside; these are small groups of friends. And we really like to get the kids out into the countryside because modern city life in China is so first-world in so many ways, it’s hard for our kids to understand what life is like for most rural people unless they actually get out there and get into somebody’s home and see the dirt floors and the holes in the ceiling and the single light bulb and all that kind of stuff. There’s a huge, huge gap between urban life and deep rural life. Our kids most likely come from rural families and that’s been a real important part of what we’ve done when we take her back. In April we took her and some other kids to a middle school in, way out in the countryside, so they were with kids their age or a little bit older who were at a boarding school, trying to catch up with city kids so they would have a chance of maybe getting into college when they’re older. These kids go to school six and a half days a week and they go home one afternoon a month and all summer when they go home they work in the fields. This is a real different life from what our kids have. And they can’t wait to go back to school because that’s their ticket out and they know it. So I think as she gets older we want to keep her connected to China, keep building relationships to all the people she sees every two years, and also keep building that database of experiences outside the cities. To build understanding and ultimately, I hope, compassion for the pressures and difficulties of rural life.
TRACK 8 – 6:08
MIAE: How did you publish the book?
AMY: Sure, I can talk about what we did. When we put the book together, what we did is sort of like what you do when you make a quilt. She obviously at seven years old she couldn’t structure the book, she couldn’t structure a manuscript. My aim was to…she really wanted to tell her own story her way, that’s what she got out of Deanne Borche Liam’s film and that’s what she wanted to accomplish so that was her goal. It had to ring true to her, it had to be in her language. What I provided was a structure. The photographer provided fifteen hundred photographs. Which she didn’t, she never saw them all, it was too many at that age, she couldn’t deal with that. So we got it down to about two hundred and then I sat down with a designer and we got it down to about the hundred that are in the book. And I made the structure for it, for each section and divided up the photographs. So we did that sort of scaffolding work with the quilting, the frame of the quilt was constructed by adults and professionals. I’m a book editor and the designer is a book designer. This is what we do. The designer is her godfather so he takes a personal interest in her as well. So what we did for each section is look at those photographs separately and I interviewed her and taped her talking about the pictures, what she remembered. So we had that on tape. She had her teachers, both English and Chinese, had asked her to keep a diary of her trip. So we had her writing in English and Chinese. We had videotape, because a lot of the time the photographer was going we were videotaping, so we would watch the videotape and she would talk about that. And from those various pieces I put together a rather lengthy-type script that I then broke up with pieces and we put on the floor with pictures and she added and subtracted things that she thought would be in that section and she wanted to comment on this photograph or that photograph and we changed that all around. And then it was all too big so we had to cut about a fifth of the text and she had to do that. And then she was very involved in the line-editing of the final manuscript. Because when she saw it on, I had text next to the photograph so it would appear on each page, she would get a feeling that it was giving a message she hadn’t intended and she would adjust the wording so that there was something about…before I was adopted I was just Chinese or I was only Chinese, whatever it was, she thought it made it sound like being Chinese wasn’t good enough, you had to be American too, so she changed the just to only or only to just, I don’t remember, but it was that kind of thing where she was really engaged with trying to control the message that she was giving out, but sure yes, professional book people, including myself, we put that book together, but the pieces of that book quilt are her design. Those are her words and her feelings and not mine. A lot of it, I don’t see it that way at all. Maybe when she’s older she won’t see it that way. The hardest section by far for her and the section that has almost no words in it, is for the disabled kids. They’re very disabled children, we don’t see those kids in everyday life here in the US. She really was not prepared and we had not prepared her for the extent of these children’s disabilities. She didn’t know what to think of that. We did have someone, Anan of the Amity foundation was with us when she first saw the disabled kids and she pretty much used what Anan told her, which was their lives are really different from yours, but they’re just as important, so that’s all she could think of to say about them and that’s all I could get out of her. I don’t think that she felt a connection to those children because they’re so different from her, but that’s an age thing too. But I wasn’t going to go in there and have comments about those children, we just let those photographs stand and be their own commentary. What I found interesting as an adult, and if it were my book I would have written about it, those kids all make eye contact with the camera and most of the other kids do not. And I thought that was really interesting. They really are present in the moment and they don’t have defenses and I was very struck by that with those kids. But for her they were too different to really connect with. But the others, yeah, this was a lot of what she really felt and believed about the kids and the older kids and the city kids and her place there.
MIAE: Describe the book.
AMY: Ying Ying’s book is called Kids Like Me in China and she wrote it about her
TRACK 9 – 2:41
first trip back to visit her orphanage in the city where her orphanage is when she was seven and a half to eight years old, as the project took us about six months to complete. And she starts with a little introduction of herself as a person who was born in China and adopted by Americans and growing up in San Francisco and then she starts with the youngest children at the orphanage – the healthy infants – which is what she was when she lived there. And she describes what their life is like and she pays a lot of attention to the people who take care of them and what they do. Things like they’re working so hard that they don’t get to sit down for lunch. They stand up for lunch. And there aren’t many of them and there are a whole lot of babies. And then she talks about playing with the toddlers and what they like to do and thinks about how they’re the healthy kids, most of them are girls, the little ones are girls and why that would be. And that was a lot of work because it’s a very complicated situation, the different population policies for rural people and for city people and she worked hard on getting a grasp of that in a very simple but straightforward and fairly accurate way. And then she talks about big kids who go to school in the city and they’re the ones she was most interested in. And she talks a little about the disabled kids and then she goes out into the city because she’s made some friends in the city in their families, who are growing up in their families. And their lives have a lot of similarities to hers. They live in small apartments but they have all sorts of modern stuff – computers and entertainment centers and all that kind of stuff. And she was able to visit a school as well and have a big party with kids at a primary school, a public elementary school in her city and that was really a lot of fun and enjoyed visiting them and has gone back and visited them several times since then. And finally she talks just a little bit about going out into the countryside and what’s different out there. And how she wants to come back and belong in both places.
MIAE: Anything you want to add?
TRACK 10 – 3:46
TERRY: I do. And that relates to…sure. Actually, in part related to everything that we’ve been talking about and to her book especially. As proud as I am of her and of Amy for making the book, I’m enormously proud of her for what she’s done after. We were really pleased that people accepted the book and she earned some royalties with it. we were prepared to set aside some of it for her college fees and she made the determination that she wanted to give money back to the kids in her orphanage to help them go to school because she said it’s they’re story as much as it is mine, and they deserve the money just as much as I do. And that’s something that I just didn’t expect out of a kid of her age. To think that way and, I just think that’s really great. And she started with getting eye glasses for these kids. She bought air conditioners so they had a good study room and now she’s putting nearly twenty kids through school, including a couple of kids who are going to vocational schools, through college. For her, an eleven year old kid to do wow, that’s really great. I’m really happy about that.
AMY: I would say one other thing. She’s not alone in this. I think there are quite a few kids who are her age or younger who are finding ways to make a real difference and are becoming empowered to help make the situation better for children who are living in orphanages now. And I think that’s tremendously important for them personally. Probably more than what any of us is able to contribute because the need is so enormous and we can’t possibly make a good life for every orphanage child in China, that’s impossible. But the point is young children, and quite a few of them, by doing read-a-thons, by donating checks that they’ve received for birthday presents, are dedicating those, what they can to help make life better for children like themselves who are growing up in orphanages. And I think that’s fantastic and I also think what one of the things we wanted to accomplish with the book is make it clear that even pretty young kids have a lot to say about their lives and we parents may talk a lot, like I do, but we need to start turning the story over to them. It will change. They won’t always have the same view of it that they have at seven or eight and it’s not over at sixteen or twenty-six or thirty-six and it’s not over. But that they are the storytellers of their own lives and that they are, they have a voice and they can use it and I think that’s very important. I don’t think children should have to wait until they’re all grown up and moved out of home and have a degree that says they’re competent to be able to tell the world what their life is like. I hope that we hear from lots more of these kids as they grow up, because I think they have a lot to say and I look forward to hearing those stories.
TRACK 11 – 0:14
MIAE: Anything to add?
TERRY: No. We’ve exhausted you.
TRACK 12 – 0:41
AMY: I do want to add something. I want to say how moved I am that adoptees are included in this story of Asian immigration to the US. It’s a little bit different in that our children didn’t choose to come here, but they came here nonetheless. And I am so grateful to see them included as part of the story of immigration from Asia to the US, because they belong there. They belong to the history of Asian America and the future of Asian America.