Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Trans-racial Adoption: From Vietnam, to Hong Kong to Britain

For Jessica Emmett, being trans-racially adopted has been a roller-coaster of emotions. Her personal story spreads from Vietnam to Hong Kong and finally the UK. At times it has been an up hill struggle, but she believes bridging the three cultures has brought benefits too.

"I was born in 1982 in Hong Kong to Vietnamese parents who were refugees from the war. I don't know the full circumstances of my adoption except that I was relinquished.

"I was fostered by a British expat family. It was my foster sister who named me Jessica-Jane, which was shortened to JJ. In Chinese JJ loosely translates to sister. They clearly cared a lot about me. I wasn't just a stop over.

"Eventually I was adopted by a white British expat couple. I had a very British upbringing. I went to an international school, and went through the British education system. But the expat community is quite strange - it's easy to feel isolated. Being adopted in to that community was even stranger. I felt I wasn't allowed to say I was Chinese, or Vietnamese, and I struggled a lot with my culture and identity.

"When I was 16 my parents wanted to retire, so moved back to the UK. They felt Hong Kong was the place they worked, but the UK was where their roots were. Although I'd been to the UK many times the expat view of the UK is very different from what it's really like. Also the way people view you is very different from how you view yourself. British people saw me as Chinese, but I didn't see myself as that. It was a very traumatic and difficult time.

"We moved to a small town in Yorkshire and I was sent to an all girls' grammar school. It was so different from Hong Kong and I really struggled. People seemed to have a very narrow view of the world and didn't have the same open mindedness I was used to.

"I did find one person who seemed to understand me. He went to the boys school down the road. He was the only person I felt had a wider sense of the world and he didn't look at me as a minority. In 2005 he became my husband.

"Now I call myself three things: British; Chinese and Vietnamese. I've learnt to own these things better, and I don't care about the boxes others put me in. I'm glad I'm trans-racially adopted as I can have a foot in more than one world. Although there are struggles, there are definitely benefits too.

"It's not just adopted people that experience difficulties with identity. It's anyone who has a story of different races and cultures. The difference is that mixed race people often have access to those cultures through their parents, which trans-racially adopted people don't always have.

"I think it's really important for trans-racially adopted people to have someone who can give them access to their culture. It might seem easier to gain that access through a same race adoptive parent but it definitely is not the only way. Adoptive parents need to educate themselves on the difficulties their child might face, and find a way to integrate their culture into the family in as natural way as possible."

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