A Taiwanese American Adoptee’s Journey and Search for Identity

“Imagine your whole life believing that you are one thing and then learning in mid-life that you are not what you have always believed you were… I always believed that I was Vietnamese and Japanese. That’s what they told me. I had no reason to question what I’d been told. After my mom passed away in 2008, however, I made a discovery about my adoption that changed everything.”

On February 2010, that first post marked the beginning of a blogging journey by Marijane Chaling Nguyen (birth name: Huang Shiao-Ling) on her blog entitled Beyond Two Worlds: Musings of an Asian-American Adoptee, which documents her search for her birth family in Taiwan.

Marijane reveals more about her newly discovered identity. She writes in her blog post, “I’ve thought more and more about my adoption and decided to begin a search for my birthfamily. I sent my adoption contract to an adoption agency specializing in placing children from Taiwan with American families. Surprisingly, I learned from one of the caseworkers that my birthparents were not Vietnamese and Japanese, but very possibly from Taiwan. Could I be Taiwanese? For years I have explained to people that I was born in Taiwan, but am really Japanese and Vietnamese adopted by white parents.”

I was so drawn to her story and insightful commentary that I read her website from beginning to end, and then reached out to interview her. The events that have unfolded since she began blogging is nothing short of amazing, so I felt compelled to share it with you, the readers of TaiwaneseAmerican.org. But as I was trying to decide how to best share her story, I realized the only way to fully understand it and appreciate the emotional drama is to encourage you to read her writings for yourself. This brief interview and spotlight article will not do her story justice. Nonetheless, I present to you some details about her story and some of the commentary that she has been kind enough to share with me.

Marijane was adopted at 4 months of age by loving parents who raised her in Bossier City/Shreveport, Louisiana. With adoptive parents who were Caucasian and growing up in the South where cultural diversity was lacking, her formative years were challenging. She says she initially “tried to be ‘white’ and rejected [her] birth culture.” But over the years, she has come to embrace her racial identity, and with the recent discovery that she was adopted from Taiwan, “something just clicked.” She tells me, “I now want to learn everything I can about Taiwan, Taiwanese culture and am determined to learn Mandarin.”

Marijane, who now lives in Arizona, shares the uncertainty she feels, yet expresses her hope to learn more about her roots and about herself. She writes, “I’m not sure how the search for my birthfamily will go. Chances are that neither of my birthparents are still living. My birthmother was 39 and birthfather, 55 when I was born… Discovering things I never knew about my adoption and digging into my past has led to an awakening, a desire to understand my cultural heritage. I am more curious now than ever before about my birthfamily. Do I look like any of them, where did I get my musicality, are there any health issues to be concerned about, was it difficult for my birthparents to give me up, did they ever want to see me? Questions that adoptees sometimes ask themselves. Although I may never find out anything other than what’s preserved on my adoption contract, I hope that won’t be the case.”

Fast forward to January 2011, after about a two year search for her biological family, Marijane will soon be reuniting with her biological siblings in Taipei. The story is still unfolding before our very eyes, and it is captivating and exciting indeed.

Follow Marijane’s heartwarming and evolving journey here: http://beyondtwoworlds.com

I encourage you to read back on all of her posts from the beginning, but if time is short, here are the key posts to bring you up-to-date along her journey. It reads like a tear-jerker, but sheds so much light on the meaning of personal identity and what it feels like to struggle with an uncertain identity. But trust me when I say, start from the beginning:

Feb. 28, 2010: “My Mysterious Adoption” – on the life-changing discovery.
Mar. 10, 2010:“Lucky Girl” – on her adoption, the conflicting stories, and her move to Louisiana.
Mar. 18, 2010: “Who am I?” – on being the only Asian and the difficulty fitting in.
Mar. 26, 2010: “A Mystery Letter Found” – on a revealing letter about the orphanage, but the rest is missing.
May 11, 2010: “Road Block” – on a birth family from China, a move to Taiwan, and dead ends.
Aug. 2, 2010: “Cross-Cultural Adoption: A Thing or Two” – on identity confusion and the importance of cross-cultural awareness.
Oct 1, 2010: “Searching for my Birth Family” – on renewed efforts to find family in Taiwan.
Mar. 7, 2011: “The Question I Get Asked the Most” – on the loaded question, “where are you from?”
May 1, 2011: “From Halfway Across the World” – on hopeful leads from a kindred spirit.
Aug. 10, 2011: “Missing Link” – on the discovery of a biological sister.
Oct. 17, 2011: “Embracing my Cultural Roots” – on the complexities of being Chinese or Taiwanese.
Dec. 24, 2011: “A Christmas Miracle” – on the best news possible and a planned trip to Taipei.

As one of the few and older Taiwanese American adoptees out there, I asked Marijane what she hoped for other younger adoptees out there. She replies, “My hope for other Taiwanese or Asian American adoptees is that their adoptive parents educate themselves first on the challenges that may occur when adopting cross-culturally. I hope that adoptive families have an openness to discuss issues such as race, ethnicity, and how to handle prejudice. My hope is that adoptive parents can empower their kids to embrace their racial and ethnic identities by exposing them to their birth culture at an early age. I hope that adoptees will grow up feeling secure in who they are and appreciate their cultural roots. If I can help another adoptee through the whole Identity process, then that would be a wonderful thing.”

Thank you, Marijane, for sharing your very personal and inspiring story to me and all our readers. You have taught us all a little bit more about the value of identity and heritage.

For our readers, I would like to share some interesting information about adoptions, a topic that is too often overlooked in our community. Did you know that since 1999, there have been 1,884 total adoptions from Taiwan to the US? In comparison, there were 66,630 from China. Although the peak year for international adoptions occurred in 2004 with a total of 22,991 adoptions, in 2011, that number has decreased to 9,319. However, Taiwan to US adoptions are generally on the rise, with about 200 adoptions taking place in recent years. In the US, the states where most Taiwanese adoptions take place include: California, Texas, New York, Illinois, and Florida.

Find below some interesting links if you would like to learn more about this emerging population in our Taiwanese American community.

Adoption statistics from Taiwan to US:

Taiwan ROCks, a Taiwanese American adoptee & family social support network:

Index of Taiwan adoption blogs:

Are you a Taiwanese American adoptee? We would like to hear your story. Feel free to leave comments below, and know that we at TaiwaneseAmerican.org are here to serve you too.

5 Responses to “A Taiwanese American Adoptee’s Journey and Search for Identity”

  1. you ever wonder why there is no White child adopted by Asian/black families?

  2. As a Korean American adoptee who has struggled with self acceptance and identity issues my entire life, I wish you good luck! I sincerely hope you find the peace and answers you are looking for.

  3. Not sure where the first question is coming from. That’s a pretty bold and random statement to say no. I’m sure there are a few. But football player Scott Fujita is ethnically white but his adopted father is ethnically Japanese and he was culturally raised Japanese American. And I would consider him Asian American. And there’s a significant amount biracial Asian and African American youth adoptees from Korea and Vietnam. A famous one is Marja Vongerichten, who’s ethnically Korean and African American and was adopted by African American family and recently found her biological mom. You can watch part of her story at Kimchi Chronicles and her husband is the famous chef Jean-George Vongerichten, and their child is a cute combo item of the two of them.

  4. Taiwan is a beautiful country and the people are great.

  5. I am a taiwanese adoptee and would like to find out my birth mom but I’m not sure how

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