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Navigating My Chinese Identity, 2021 Year in Review

Téa Tamburo

Originally published April 1, 2021.

Navigating my Chinese identity

The U.S. is home to hundreds of thousands of international adoptees: of that, one-third are adopted from Asia and raised in predominantly white families. I am only one person of the thousands that share the identity of “female, Asian adoptee.”

After the heartbreaking shooting in Atlanta, where a total of eight died, six being women of Asian decent, I tried Googling articles to see where those like me fit into the anti-Asian racism movement. I wasn’t super surprised when hardly anything popped up. Finding impactful articles on international adoption sometimes feels like running on a treadmill: you’re running but going nowhere. So coming up empty-handed on this hyper-specific topic was no awakening for me. Not seeing anything about the place of Asian adoptees raised questions about not only my role as an adoptee but also as women and someone raised in a white family. I’m a “different” type of Asian, so what’s my role in the Asian community when hate crimes and extreme racism are happening on a very publicized scale?

My level of confidence in my Chinese ethnicity has evolved and changed throughout my life, but I’m been fortunate that I’ve felt physically safe in my skin. I have white parents and live in Chicago, a very diverse and liberal city. This doesn’t mean I am exempt from what’s happening: I just approach it differently. When walking down the street and someone gestures to speak to me, there’s a small thought in my mind wondering if I’m about to be falsely confronted for the spread or creation of COVID-19. Just looking at me, I’m a petite Chinese girl wearing a pink mask. It’s not known just from my face that I’m someone raised in America with white parents and American customs.

"Just looking at me, I’m a petite Chinese girl wearing a pink mask. It’s not known just from my face that I’m someone raised in America with white parents and American customs."

Everyone feels differently about this, but I don’t closely associate my relationship with my Asian heritage with that of someone raised in China. However, that aspect of my identity doesn’t have a role in the racism playing out around us. We are still of Asian heritage and thus wrongfully targets in the eyes of many. This isn’t just a fight against anti-Asian racism for those raised in Asian families; it’s everyone’s fight, whether you’re raised in a predominantly white family or not. This is not the first time the Asian American community has been targeted; it’s just more pronounced.

I sometimes feel like I’m passing as white to blend into society. For as many Asian adoptees there are, it’s pretty uncommon to meet someone in your everyday life that shares this identity, unless you’re specifically seeking out this community. This leaves me in sort of an awkward position. I’m unsure how to navigate the racism facing the Asian American community when I’m a “different” type of Asian. For as many times as I’ve tried to Google how those like me fit into current events, I always seem to come up empty-handed. Maybe there’s a reason for this: we have the ability to add new perspectives and meaning to the anti-Asian racism movement.


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