Saturday, October 1, 2011

Another Mother's Daughter

By Mei-Ling


It is difficult to reconcile the image of the mother who held me as an infant with the image of the mother that I met through reunion.
Having been the infant that my mother chose (planned) to get pregnant with gives her a special kind of significance. No matter how much my adoptive mom loves me, she cannot take that place - the place of intimacy between a mother and her newborn infant. Having been the daughter that my adoptive mom raised to know in an intimately familial way also gives her a certain kind of significance. No matter how much my mother nurtured me in her body and held me before giving me up, she also cannot take that place - the place of the mother who nurtured me beyond infancy.
Yet, this brings me to the question: Even if my mother has her place through the intimate connection of birth, and my mom has her place through the act of raising me, and it ended up working out - can a mother be replaced by a substitute caregiver?
Once I announced I am adopted, people don't see me as having the right to exist. If I say my adoptive mom was a good person and raised me well, I am greeted with nods. If, however, I claim my mother was also a good person, I'm told that I am just placing her on a pedestal since she didn't raise me.

Being called one name indicates I am more of one mother's daughter than another. Likewise, being called by another name insinuates I am more another mother's daughter.

"You really are both Canadian and Chinese. You choose who you want to be."

If I say I am my mother's daughter -> "Well, sure, she gave birth to you - but your adoptive mom raised you."

If I speak Chinese -> I alienate those around me whom only speak English

If I say I feel I am more Chinese at times -> "Of course you're Chinese, but don't forget, you were raised Canadian."

If I claim back my name or my blood family, or listen to Chinese music or watch Chinese dramas, or anything Canadian-Chinese mainstream, I get all sorts of not-so-lovely reminders that it's good I'm enjoying those things, I shouldn't forget I'm "really" Canadian. Why, thank you dear world, for dictating who I am. Or who I should be.


Someone once said to me in a Chinese chat: Hey, where are you from?
Me (I was using a Chinese alias): Canada.
Person: Oh? Where were you born?
Me: Asia.
Person: Cool, which country?
Me: Taiwan.
Person: Did you grow up there?
Me: ... no.
Person: How old were you when your parents immigrated with you?
Me: Um... they didn't. I was raised by white people.
Person: Oh, so you're adopted.
Me: Yes.
Person: You're not really Chinese, then. (seems to convey this air of disappointment)
Me: Er, yes, I am.
Person: No, you're not.
Me: You can't dictate who I am. I'm ethnically Chinese, and just because my parents didn't come with me doesn't mean I'm not Chinese. Nothing can change that.
Person: Sorry to disappoint you, but you're not Chinese. You were raised culturally Canadian. Your parents are white. You're not Chinese. You're just a banana. An Asian-wanna-be.
Me: ... (unable to really refute this) I'm still from Asia.
Person: Doesn't mean anything. You were raised by Caucasians, so you're not Chinese. If you really want to prove your Asian background, then why do people wear red hats on Chinese New Year? What does that mean?*
Me: ... I don't know.
Person: See? You're not Chinese.
How can someone use a Chinese name when everyone else refuses to see that person as being of that ethnic background? How can someone use a Chinese name when they're told you have to know the language/culture of origin in order to claim you're culturally of that background?

Last of all, how can someone justify "becoming" Chinese when their legally identified parents are Caucasian?
(*An actual real-life example of Chinese culture that I didn't know about)