Culture Combination

The fact that I’m not my parent’s biological child sometimes slips my mind, so after 16 years I’ve finally taken the time to stop and think about my Chinese culture, as well as what my adoption means to me.


Wait. You’re adopted?”

A look of confusion and shock flash across people’s faces when I tell them that I was adopted from China when I was 11 months old. I guess it’s surprising because I look enough like my parents that I could pass as their biological child. Being adopted has never bothered me, and it rarely comes up in conversation, so I don’t talk about it much. Since I never put in the time to learn more about my past, it’s just a reality that I accepted as I grew older.

Growing up, I always knew that my mom and dad were not my birth parents, so I never asked any questions, nor did I feel the need to. From the start, they felt it was important that certain parts of my Chinese culture were implemented in my life and decided to do so by having me Chinese by celebrating Chinese New Year.

My mom is half Chinese and has always worked to maintain a strong connection to her culture, so she wanted me to value my heritage as much as she did. Whenever we travel to China, our trip always keeps a few days to visit family in the city, which not only allows my mom to reconnect with our relatives, but also gives me a chance for me to experience the local side to life in the country.

Growing up, I always knew that my mom and dad were not my birth parents.

Aside from visiting the country, speaking the language and celebrating its holidays, my family also holds an annual celebration where we get together to celebrate my adoption with other families who also adopted their daughters from China. When I was younger, it used to be a chance for us girls to spend time with and bond over our unique shared history and gave our parents time to chat amongst themselves. But over the past 16 years, I feel as though our group has matured and become closer, since we have been able to connect over more in-depth issues. Out of the seven other girls in my adoption group, there is only one other person who has been learning Chinese in school, which initially made me question whether I had remained connected to my Asian heritage too much.

Now, looking back, I realize that being enrolled in a Mandarin immersion program in elementary school and picking it back up at Paly has had the effect my parents hoped for, making me feel connected to my Chinese culture, and I finally see that there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I am proud to be able to translate emails from our Chinese relatives for my mom. Despite my periodic protesting and objection to putting in the effort to learn the language, I realize its value.

When I was 10 years old, my mom and I flew to China with a large group of other families who had adopted from the same orphanage as me, an entirely different set of people from our Family Day group. Out of all of the places we went and things we did, the one that stood out to me the most was the day trip to the orphanage we had all once been in. Meeting the main caretaker, the same woman who brought us in as infants and took the responsibility of raising us, was an experience that I never thought I would have. Being able to communicate with her left me feeling thankful for my parents pushing me to learn the language. My knowledge of Chinese creates these kinds of moments, ones that have brought me closer to the life I could be living.

The fact that I’m adopted isn’t something I can change, that is the way it is, the way it always will be.

It’s fascinating to me that there was a substantial chance I could have been adopted by another family and possibly leading a completely different life compared to the one I have today. Or that I could still be in that orphanage in China, probably with little to no hope left, knowing that I would remain there until I was an adult. By being raised in Palo Alto, I’ve had plenty of opportunities and experiences in my extracurriculars or academics that have helped me become the person I am today. The fact that I’m adopted isn’t something I can change, that is the way it is, the way it always will be. I have a unique story to tell and am proud to tell it, all you have to do is ask.