Asian American Adoptees & Identity

Asian American Adoptees & Identity

Growing up in a white home, I didn’t identify as Asian American. When I got older, I realized I did want to understand my ethnic heritage and yet I still didn’t like the term Asian American. I desperately wanted to find a community that reflected me, but “Asian American” encompassed way too many different ethnicities to meaningfully do that.

I also ignorantly assumed “Asian American” was a term created to lump people of Asian descent together into a group of OTHERS, erasing the many distinct cultures and ethnic groups within (that term is actually “Oriental”).

BUT THEN, I did something we should all do when we come across things we don’t understand and don’t like.
I researched it. 🤯

I learned “Asian American” was created by student activists at UC Berkeley in 1968. Inspired by the Black Power Movement and protests against the war, they founded the Asian American Political Alliance to unite people of Asian descent for greater visibility, influence and impact.

Though it took time to catch on, it was a positive replacement for ‘Oriental’, a term rooted in colonialism and the exotification of Asian people.

Rooted in Activism

“Asian American” was a way to unite ethnically and culturally distinct groups, some with long histories of animosity toward one another, yet had common goals and political concerns.

Asian American is a “radical label of self-determination” that expresses the idea that “we have to work together to fight for social justice and equality, not only for ourselves, but for all of the people around us.” (Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil,

Thinking about what it means to be Asian American right now, there is both sorrow and joy. I’m proud to lock arms under this banner with all my South-, Central-, Western-, and Southeast-Asian American brothers and sisters. I love that the Asian American identity is rooted in activism and the ideal of collective liberation.

There is no one way to be Asian.

The more I learn, the more I understand how diverse Asian America really is and how untidy the sub-categories we create really are. There is no one way or right way to be Asian American. Recognizing that has increased my confidence to identify as Asian American. ⁣

Even though I was adopted and raised in white culture.

Even though I don’t speak my ancestor’s language and wasn’t raised celebrating Lunar New Year and don’t have this and don’t have that….

My ancestors were Chinese. That’s a fact.

How I embody being Asian American is determined in part by my circumstances, yes, but also by the choices I now make as an adult. I can choose to learn a language if I want, but I don’t have to. Same thing for holidays and learning about certain foods and traditions.

I get to determine what it means for me to be Asian American.

As an adoptee, it does feel like a radical act of self-determination. There certainly isn’t a guarantee that our adoptive family will affirm our Asian identity. There isn’t a guarantee that other Asian Americans will either.

My ethnic heritage is what it is. Full stop. Mine to explore. Mine to reclaim. As little or as much as I want. As I want. When I want. This is what it means, to me, to be an Asian American Adoptee.

[This post is a combination of words originally posted on my instagram account.]