Today is my birthday, but you already know that. I’ve attached a picture of me, taken in 2008. If it’s alright with you, I’d like to tell you what’s happened to me since my birthday forty-two years ago.
I was adopted into a loving family at two months old; a family that already had a young son, but they told me that they always wanted to adopt. The mother2 is extremely proud of her Norwegian heritage. Her mother – the grandmother2 – was the first generation immigrant to the United States from Norway. She came here when she was six. Anyway, I tell you this because I grew up with lots of Norwegian cultural influences all around me: Norwegian flags trimming the Christmas tree, Viking motifs and sometimes fiskeboller (a fish meatball) for dinner. I didn’t care for fiskeboller too much, because we would usually get them from a can, and it always tasted like the can to me. Overall, I enjoyed learning Norwegian table blessings and songs. It can be fun for a child to celebrate heritage and culture.
My childhood was, in some ways, pretty normal. In other ways, it’s pretty special. This family brought me up in a Christian household, attending church regularly, not just on Christmas and Easter. The Philadelphia neighborhood we lived in is called Mount Airy. It is a very diverse place with people of all races, creeds, and even socioeconomic statuses (to some degree). I attended private Quaker schools all through my childhood. After high school, I was able to attend Smith College, where I majored in East Asian Studies with a concentration in Japanese. As I got older, I appreciated my upbringing more and more.
Additionally, as I got older, I also needed to find out who I am and claim my identity for my very own. This was a challenging process. It’s a never-ending journey for all of us, I think. It was hard to grow up and not have anyone around who looked like me. After I was adopted, the mother and father gave birth to a girl (younger sister2). As all three children grew up, the older brother2 and younger sister2 began to look more and more like the parents; I felt like the odd kid out. It was frustrating to want my eyebrows to match the pictures I saw on TV and on the cover of Seventeen magazines, knowing that my eyebrows were the complete opposite shape of the beauty standards. And where did my eyebrows come from anyway? Only when I went to Japan did I realize where they came from, noticing “my eyebrows” on every Japanese person walking down the street. During my preteen and teenage years, my insecurities would manifest themselves in emotional outbursts of “I don’t belong in this family” or “You’re not my REAL mother anyway”, directed at the family2. Intellectually, I knew that this was untrue but I let emotions get the best of me.
During college was the first time I was able to identify emotionally with my Japanese heritage; I watched a documentary about the U.S. Japanese Internment during WWII and then cried my eyes out afterward. After immersing myself in Japanese language and studies at college, I was able to live and work in Japan for twelve years. It was then that I soon discovered that all of my Japanese pride and education didn’t mean a hill of beans to the Japanese Nationals. If neither I LOOKED 100% Japanese nor had a Japanese surname, I wasn’t Japanese to them. I learned how to be comfortable in my own identity – I am White and I am Japanese; I am a 100% citizen of the United States of America.
After I became comfortable with this part of my identity, the father2 in the family died suddenly in February 1999. We were extremely close, and his sudden death put me into an emotional tailspin. Once again, I needed to look within to find out who I really am. I kept asking myself, “Why am I taking this death so hard? Why is it affecting me so much?” It was then I realized the depth of what was happening to me; I was reliving the day I was separated from you. While his passing was painful for me, his death brought a whole new self-awareness for me; for that, I am grateful.
Now, I am married and have two boys. I met my Minnesotan husband in Tokyo, Japan. Both of my sons were born there. We returned to the U.S. in 2004, when the kids were 5 and 7 years old. As I watch the kids grow up and navigate their own identity journeys, it’s amazing to see how much they identify with their Japanese heritage. It helps me continue to travel my identity journey.
I’m writing to tell you that I’m okay. I want you to know that, even though I do not know all the circumstances surrounding my birth, I can appreciate the difficult choices you had to make in order to carry me to full term and then make plans for my adoption. I have nothing but the deepest respect for you because of the choices you made. If you ever feel that you would like to meet me, I am more than willing to do this. Just know that it would take a lot of courage and humility on both our parts.
1 Even though I have my original birth certificate, I chose not to use her name out of respect for her privacy. We have not had a reunion yet, and I am unable to ask her permission to share her name publicly.
2 I have intentionally addressed my adoptive family in the third person. They are/were the only family I’ve known, but refer to them in this way to be sensitive to my birth mother and to them. Addressing them as my “adoptive” family doesn’t feel right to me. Addressing them as my “family” might not feel right to my birth mother.
3 I know that name my birth mother gave me, but chose not to use it here. Also, she would not recognize the name I have now, so I chose not to use it.