What Would You Tell Allie, a 6 Year-Old Taiwanese American Adoptee?

Recently, Lora C., the loving mother of 6 year-old adoptee Allie C., messaged our TaiwaneseAmerican.org Facebook Page to ask for our advice about how to help her child learn about and accept her identity as a Taiwanese American. I was moved by how much Lora was willing to share with us and how she regarded us as a potential community resource, given that their family lives in the Midwest, where there are relatively fewer Asian Americans. Even though I was uncertain about how I could help, I arranged to speak to her the following day to see if I could offer some of my personal advice from past experiences working with Taiwanese American children and teens. Throughout our conversation, I was touched by how open and curious Lora was to my experiences and thoughts, as she seemed to comb through my words and stories to find answers to prepare her daughter for the experiences she might face in the future. I was equally impressed by how her 6 year old embodied a strong, independent “wise old soul.” Although I shared my personal opinions and the discussion was productive and encouraging, I still felt it was important enough to bring this issue regarding identity formation of young children (and especially a growing Taiwanese American adoptee population) to the forefront knowing that many of you, our readers and followers, may have thoughts and advice of your own to share. Lora has consented to me reprinting her original message publicly with the hope that you might engage in this important discussion and share your advice and stories. She looks forward to anything you have to say.

Read Lora’s message below, and then share your thoughts on three questions I have for you:

Dear TaiwaneseAmerican.org,

I am looking for advice about how to handle a situation we have encountered at our daughters school. If you can shed some light in our direction, it would be very helpful and much appreciated.

Our school has invited a group of Chinese exchange students and teachers to visit for several weeks. Because the community we reside in is not very diverse, our daughter has enjoyed going to school and visiting with these Asian students who seem familiar to her in ways that some of her Caucasian American friends might not. It has been a nice cultural experience for our daughter up until now.

The problem is that when an older Chinese student/teacher asked our 6 year old daughter where she was born, our daughter stated that she was born in Taiwan. The Chinese teacher gave a little laugh and told our daughter in front of her fellow classmates that Taiwan was the same as China. She told our daughter that she was Chinese. Our family has educated our daughter otherwise. We continue to educate our daughter and our family about the history of her birth country and encourage her to be a proud Taiwanese American.

Our family is not Taiwanese. However, we understand and strongly believe in Taiwanese Independence. Our 6 year old has become a little quiet and perhaps confused about her identity. I’m not sure that she trusts what I am telling her now… She told me that since I am not Asian that I might not understand the facts and I might be wrong. Maybe Taiwan is China.

I have shown her the map, I have shown her the flag, I have shown her the currency, I have shown her a birth certificate. I have tried to explain the political differences, but she is too young to understand.

My heart feels heavy because I don’t want my beautiful intelligent child to be misled and confused. I wish for her to be proud and connected to the Taiwanese American community.

How do I help her and how do I educate our school to encourage them to ask these Chinese exchange students to keep political views to themselves? I worry that my little girl may be confronted with opposition from other students if they are being educated incorrectly.

Thank you for any help you can offer our family.

Lora C.

On behalf of TaiwaneseAmerican.org’s staff, we thank you Lora for trusting us with information about your situation. Through your adoptive experiences, you, Allie, and your family are part of our Taiwanese American community now, and we hope we can continue serving you in the future.

We believe our followers and community members may have interesting experiences and stories of their own to share and learn from, so we invite you to comment below. Please note that due to the sensitivity of the topic involving a young 6 year-old child, we will not tolerate comments that are inflammatory, insulting, or racist in nature. We, however, do appreciate a diversity of honest and open thoughts, opinions, and ideas to help Lora and Allie through this period and into her future.

We invite you to respond to any or all of these questions:

1) How would you advise Lora, who is not of Taiwanese heritage, to teach her child about the Taiwanese American identity and culture?

2) If you were in the situation described above, how would you specifically address the school and the Chinese exchange students and teachers? Or how would you help Allie make sense of her confusion?

3) If you were to write Allie a letter of encouragement, what would YOU say to her? Please start with “Dear Allie” and keep in mind that she is currently 6 years old. Some of these letters will be shown to her or saved for her as she grows older.

EDIT: “I spoke with Allie about what you are doing with the letters and she is very excited. I’m not sure that she really understands what we’re doing but when I told her that you might be posting a few pictures, she insisted that she take part in sending you a few. I had to promise her that I would send you these pictures… I mentioned that she liked to have some ‘Say-So’ in just about everything, didn’t I?” –Lora C.

Well, here you go Allie! We’re so happy to know you and your mom. Welcome to our big ol’ Taiwanese American family! –Ho Chie Tsai

66 Responses to “What Would You Tell Allie, a 6 Year-Old Taiwanese American Adoptee?”

  1. I wish that I could reach out and hug each one of you right now.
    You are so kind to share such helpful information with our family and others who have checked in on this post.

    Your words are so beautiful. I have not been able to read these letters with out crying tears of my own, knowing that these letters will always be with her. If ever she begins to doubt herself, she’ll have these words to help her work through it. I’m sure that she will feel touched and be that much stronger because each of you took the time to care.
    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
    5 1/2 years ago I held this baby girl in my arms for the first time and I promised her that I would fly to the moon and back for her.
    I owe each of you, for helping me through this one!!!
    Lora Cole

  2. There is a very good news article about American parents who have adopted kids from Taiwan and their support group called ROCk for ROC kids i think. article by writer Chris Fuchs. google his name and Taipei Times. appeared in print this week

  3. Catherine

    This is a total coincidence, but I read this story in the Taipei Times this morning about American families adopting children from Taiwan.


    An excerpt:

    But the cofounders of Taiwan R.O.C.ks said they wanted to create their own group specifically tailored to Taiwan — one that both celebrated and embraced the rich culture and history of their children’s birthplace.
    “We do have friends from China,” Reitan said. “But I tell [Paige], ‘They’re from a different country. They’re from China. You’re from Taiwan.’”

  4. Dear Lora,

    As a now 21-year old mixed race individual who grew up without any support from my own parents when it came to sorting out my identity, my heart goes out to you for what you are doing for your daughter now.

    There is so much I want to say, but I think the best I can offer is to say that the most remarkable thing I have found about the people of Taiwan– and the thing that makes me most proud of my heritage– is their sincere kindness and welcoming nature. Though I am only half Taiwanese and do not speak Mandarin, I have always felt welcome, whether among relatives, among friends, or among other students and professionals. I think if your daughter can spend some time with Taiwanese people, particularly those who have spent significant time both in the US and Taiwan, she will come to identify this for herself through her own experiences.

    In the end, I don’t think you can truly force an identity on someone– my own sister considers herself to be 100% White despite her mixed blood. What you can do instead is offer your support, of which there seems to be no short supply of ^.^.

    Here is a quote I ran into while in Taiwan that I will leave you with– TA.org is a good resource to fill in the gaps: “All those who identify with and are concerned about Taiwan, who love and accept Taiwan, and who wish to live together in this land can declare with a loud voice ‘I am Taiwanese.'” ~National Museum of Taiwan History, Tainan

  5. Monica Chenglo

    Dearest Allie,

    You have such an adorable smile and do you look stylish in that “I am Taiwanese American” t-shirt! I happen to have the same one too, and I bought it way back when I was in middle school. I’m now 20, in college and amazed about how much my identity has meant to me throughout my years of growth. And there is so much I would love to share with you! I’ve always struggled with my identity even though I was raised up in a Taiwanese household. I grew up in a white suburban community and found myself very confused of who I was. I was one of the few Asians in my class who had a language barrier. For the longest time I couldn’t get why my best friend had hazel eyes and freckles while I had long dark black hair and brown eyes.I started to crave for PB&J sandwiches instead of dumplings for lunch. And to my astonishment, I was only in first grade when I started to feel this way. We perceive so much of who we are with our surroundings and get lost about it all during our path. But getting lost and confused is one of the most wonderful things that happened to me. This was because I had to fight and learn about what really mattered to me. I am Taiwanese American, and I always make it clear to others. Even if other’s may think indifferently about it. The truth of what makes you happy only needs to be known by you. Luckily, my parents were very supportive and gave me the space to grow. I went to a Taiwanese camp and directed my interests to art.I was a Taiwanese camp director and find it important to let kids freely express themselves and understand who they are. Allie, I know you have so many wonderful things ahead of you. Your family really loves you unconditionally. What we look like doesn’t define who be become. But what you choose to believe in is what makes our life meaningful. Be curious, set out and ask those questions and know that there is always a supportive family here for you. Your mom is so amazing and loving. This has been such an inspiring story to hear about. Keep rocking it my love and eat those dumplings with pride!

    Monica Chenglo

  6. Dear Lora,
    I am a Taiwanese, got my MS and PhD from US colleges, worked & lived in US for near 20 years, and moved back to Taiwan 20 years ago.

    I agree with Kevin’s Aug 30 statement “In the end, I don’t think you can truly force an identity on someone – my own sister considers herself to be 100% White despite her mixed blood.” Allie is still too young in age to understand the differences between Taiwan and China that you are eagerly trying to teach her. The best way is try to do what Monica suggested on Sep. 4, “… getting lost and confused is one of the most wonderful things that happened to me. This was because I had to fight and learn about what really mattered to me.”

    If possible, please take Allie to visit Taiwan (& attend some summer or winter camp). Let her experience Taiwan, have contact with the people here, and feel Taiwanese culture in person which will be stronger than trying to force an identity on her.


  7. Dear Lora,

    How lucky Allie is to have such a thoughtful, loving, and life-affirming mom!

    To help Allie make sense of the confusing Chinese comments/reactions, just let her know that some Asians are less able to be nice in letting others be themselves, because where they grew up isn’t a place that really allows it.

    Let her know that she is very brave in telling you anything that makes her feel uncomfortable, and that you’ll help her figure it out. You are the gatekeeper in letting her know which voice deserves to be part of who she is, and she can practice simply tuning out those Chinese — like that annoying Rush Limbaugh station. This is a useful skill for dealing with annoying folks that may cross her path in the future when you’re not around to do that for her. Help her decide which belief to add to her value system, and I can’t see how you can go wrong. She can be secure in knowing that you always hold her in a soft place in your heart, stir compassion, and give life the shape of justice.

    Dear Allie,

    Believe in yourself, and the world will believe in you! It’s going to be a fun trip learning who you are, choosing which ideas sound good to you. You are such a precious girl, and I can tell you’ve got spunk! All the best, and welcome to our community…it’s a super fun bunch!

    All the best and warmest wishes, Kathy Rai

  8. Lora – I also have an adopted daughter from Taiwan and I struggle with the same issues. She is also 6 years old – 6 1/2. When I lived in PA, I had a support group of 4 families that all adopted from Taiwan – one even had the same foster mom! Now I live in the south where I have been unable to find the same support. We also reinforce to Sarah that she is Taiwanese – but I am not sure how to handle the “Taiwan” v “China” question with her. We so loved Taiwan when we were there – the people were warm, kind and helped us a great deal. We will certainly go back – I appreciate you bringing this topic to this fb page. I would love to hear how you are finding support where you are.

  9. Yes, Taiwanese are also Chinese, so there is nothing wrong with telling others that I am Chinses. But I always stress that I am a Chinese from Taiwan, not from China. This way I get to explain to my friends that China and Taiwan are like the UK and USA. We share the same ancestors but lived apart long enough to act and think differently. We have developed differences and kept some similarities, and now Taiwan is a recognized Country of it’s own. But I do not argue with Chinese from China since they were educated to believe otherwise. Another important thing is, I am now also an American citizen, so I have one more identity: American. It is equally as hard to explain to friends and family in Taiwan that I no longer share some of their values because I am now an American. To Allie: You are both Chinese and Taiwanese, and you are an American first and formost because you live with a loving family in United States. You are extra special that you are 3 in 1!

  10. Agreed with Skye…I introduce myself as a Chinese from Taiwan , yet many times people showed me a confused face and I would do my best to explain the difference between Taiwan & China.
    13 years ago, I met my husband here in Indy and he of course just like other people, didn’t know the difference between Taiwan & China…even worse, he has no idea about Asian, the funning thing is, he served in Korea for a year in late 90s…how funny…I had to tell him that Chinese are different from Korean, Japanese….to him, best just tell him we are Asian…
    Now I have 2 girls, and they of course confused about where their mother came from but I do my best to explain to my 6-year-old, pointed out Taiwan from the world map, tell her the language I speak since I was little, and tell her that my grandfather came from China but my father was born in Taiwan, so we are Taiwanese Chinese, not just Taiwanese, because we do have native Taiwanese just like native americans!
    No worries! But for me, I would like to address to your daughter’s teacher, as a school teacher, she should have the knowledge with correct information before addressing something like that out! Because kids believe everything their teachers say, I rather the teacher said nothing than said incorrect thing! That’s my only concern I really have!

  11. Dear Lora,
    Maybe you could tell Allie, that this is from someone also named Aly, who was once a little girl just like her who had experiences just like her.
    It sounds like you and Allie are encountering racism which Allie has internalized, in that the Chinese from China have tried to convince Allie that due to her race, Allie has more in common with the Chinese from China than Allie has in common with her American mother or American family, when in fact, Allie is American like her mother and father and siblings, who all have different heritages as do all Americans.
    In fact, when I saw your family photo, I was struck by how much Allie looked like you and your husband and her siblings, the way husband and wife after many years together start to look alike due to outlook, demeanor, values, etc. which define people, just like Allie is part of your family and American with more in common with your family and the next child in the playground and less in common with Chinese from China.
    Once Allie can understand that she is American like you and the rest of her family, and like all Americans, her heritage is from another country, it becomes easy to distinguish one heritage from another, that China and Taiwan are not the same, just like France and Germany are not the same. Hope that helps.
    All best,

  12. P.S.
    Dear Lora,
    I would also love to adopt from Taiwan, if possible.
    Any suggestions from you or readers for how to best proceed?
    I’m American of Taiwanese heritage who was born in Taiwan and raised in U.S. since I was a very little girl like Allie, which makes me wonder whether being born in Taiwan makes it easier to adopt from Taiwan or harder.
    All best,

  13. Hello Lora,
    My name is Amanda . I really enjoyed reading your article on your daughter. She’s such a cutie.

    My husband Tim, who is Taiwanese, and I (I am Caucasian) had a son who was born on August 21 at 38 weeks, so almost full term. He was so beautiful, a perfect mix of both of us. Unbeknownst to us and the doctors, he was born with a horrible immune system disorder called HLH. Two months ago, our son passed away at 6.5 weeks. We are devastated. Through this, we also know how very much we want a family. Because our son’s immune disorder was genetic, we are not able to have more children of our own and are very interested in adopting an infant from Taiwan. I’m hoping that you can recommend a few reputable adoption agencies for us to use, or at least could put me in touch with someone I could talk to about adopting from Taiwan. Thank you so much!

  14. Hi Lora,

    My name is Lily. I was born in Taiwan and grew up in the US. Despite not being adopted, growing up in the US and having memories of Taiwan, understanding my identity growing up was still very difficult. I am not sure if this is something you would like to hear, but just know that as a Taiwanese-American, your daughter is not alone in her confusion to her cultural heritage. And no matter what people tell her about who “she is supposed to be,” I can promise her, she is perfect as she is, because being Taiwanese, we are all different and unique.

    I was extremely confused in middle school, when international students from China came to my predominantly white school and were very upset that I was not fervently Chinese and had friends of Japanese heritage. My parents told me not to take it personally when people tell me “it’s the same thing as being Chinese,” or “I’m too white”, or “I’m not Chinese enough.” That it is not a reflection of me, but simply a larger political situation.

    Something that I would highly recommend is a summer camp that I went to in early high school. They take pretty much all school-ages, but my parents only heard about it when I was in high school. http://lyf.tacl.org/

    The camp counselors are mostly college-age former Taiwanese American Youth Leadership Camp (or TAYL) attendees and it was just a relief to me that I was not alone in my specific set of confusions.

    So as to the questions:
    1. Here are some books that I found in high school and college, which really helped me understand why people from China get very angry at me and also helped be proud of the people of Taiwan:
    Formosa Betrayed by George H. Kerr
    Taiwan, A New History by Murray A. Rubenstein
    Quiet Revolutions on Taiwan, Republic of China by Jason C. Hu

    Mostly, the first two, the third is a very technical reading about the geopolitical environment surrounding Taiwan’s change to it’s current form of government.
    If you are near California, I highly recommend reaching out to the camp counselors of TAYL. I went for two summers and everyone is just so kind, understanding, and open-minded even in the face of very personal or politically divisive topics. Being Taiwanese is not the same thing at all or “just like” being Chinese and without going to the camp, I don’t feel that I would have gotten closer to accepting myself. I have met other Taiwanese-American students in college who were exposed to more Chinese-Americans, one of whom, essentially went insane in college and abused himself and the people around him, because he thought no one accepted him.

    When she is older, I would encourage her to look up the 288 Incident, White Terror, the Sunflower Movement, and the Wild Lily Movement. My best friend growing up was actually also named Allie. Her family was Polish Catholic and honestly, my family had more in common with her than with the other Chinese-American families. If you read up on Taiwan’s history, you’ll find that it spent a good amount of time not just as a Chinese colony, but also Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, as well as a Westernized Japan. The Taiwanese language itself has quite a decent amount of loaner words from all of those culture. Having done quite a bit of traveling, I personally find it more comfortable to be around Europeans than Chinese, additionally, quite a lot of Europeans are very aware of Taiwan’s history and unique occupants (I still need to figure out why people from the Netherlands apologized to me for what their country did to the Taiwanese).

    Taiwan has always been much more a part of the European and larger modern world than the majority of China. I know that my parents think that Taiwanese and Chinese are fairly similar, however I now feel that is due to not having grown up with more of an education in European history. Unlike many other regions that adoptees are from, Taiwan has always been a fairly globalized region, having played host to so many travelers. I would focus more on helping her learn to be a global citizen and one day, letting her visit Taiwan herself. Again, having done quite a bit of travel, it is easy to see that Taiwan was as heavily influenced by Europe as by China and Japan.

    From the TAYL website, “The culture of Taiwan stems from the melting pot of ethnicities that make up Taiwan: the values that the people hold, the recreational activities the people enjoy, the habits people form while living out their lives in Taiwan, and perhaps most importantly the food. Passing down one’s culture while living in a different country is immensely difficult, but here at LYF Camp we weave together Taiwanese culture and the American summer camp to create a truly unique Taiwanese American experience.”

    So, other than the history, I would say, introduce her to the food. It is amazing and what binds every Taiwanese kid and appreciator of Taiwan together.

    2. To Allie, I would say:
    Be kind to the Chinese students, because they do not know the whole story. They are just telling you what they have been told. They have been told in China that Taiwan is a part of China and that the people there should be reminded that they should be proud to be Chinese. They are also told that Mongolia, Korea, Japan, parts of Russia, and India were also part of China and should be again.

    You are whomever you want to be. They believe that everyone should be Chinese and that belief will only lead them to hurt and sadness. Who would want to live in a world where everyone is the same? And if they keep bothering you, ignore them.

    Being Taiwanese is being a part of a history of people who have overcome and keep overcoming. Did you know that the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and the Japanese have also been colonizers of Taiwan? That China is only one of Taiwan’s many colonizers, because the island is both beautiful and strategically desirable? That the Portuguese thought Taiwan so beautiful, they named it Formosa, meaning beautiful island.

    There are some Taiwanese that are both Chinese and Taiwanese. You can be both, but they are not the same thing. Being Chinese, means to fit into some sort of box. I have been where you have been. I have been told that I “might as well be Chinese.” I have been told that there are people I should hate, things I should know, things I should think, feel, etc. I hate boxes, so for me, I am not someone who “might as well be Chinese.” I am sorry to say, that this will not be the last time this happens to you, but just remember that China is a place where people do not have choices, where they have to be certain things. As both an American and Taiwanese, you can be whomever you want to be. And being Taiwanese, you will always be loved and accepted. You will always be welcome in Taiwan and your family is now and forever more our family as well. Because being Taiwanese is about accepting, loving, and family.

    To the Chinese students, I would say (as Allie):
    I am sorry you feel that way, however I, personally, disagree with you. Thank you for sharing your opinions with me.

    (And if they keep pushing, because they will):
    Again, thank you for sharing your opinions with me. I need to (insert something that allows you to leave, ie. go somewhere, do something).

    (If they won’t let you leave, because this has happened to me):
    I guess we will just have to agree to disagree on this topic. I am personally proud to be Taiwanese.

    (If they really won’t let you leave and they follow you, again, this has happened to me. I don’t know why this gets them to stop, but they’ll get so shocked, I’m able to walk away without them following):
    Ok, let me put this in a way you might understand, I actually like Japanese people.

    Dear Allie,

    My name is Lily and I was born in Taiwan and moved to the US when I was six years old. It took me a long time to understand what it means to me to be Taiwanese. It was confusing and weird, but you are not the only one who grows up confused about who you really are. Reading about Taiwan’s history, really helped me, so here are a few things that make me proud to be Taiwanese.

    Did you know that during the Qing dynasty, China told the Dutch that Taiwan was not under their control, so they could not do anything about the pirates?

    Did you know that the Taiwanese aboriginals were considered so frightening that even pirates were afraid of landing on parts of the island?

    Did you know that the Taiwanese language was banned under both the Japanese and Nationalist Chinese occupation and nevertheless survived?

    Did you know that Taiwanese-Americans have been the founders (or co-founders) and heads of companies like Youtube, Nvidia, and Yahoo?

    I know that being Taiwanese-American means that people will keep telling you that you are actually Chinese. It is ok, they just do not know better. They do not know what a wonderful unique history you share. I hope that you have the opportunity to visit Taiwan one day. Do not be ashamed of being Taiwanese and do not listen to the people who will make you feel bad about being Taiwanese. You do not need to belong to a group of people who shames you into being one of them. I did not understand this until I visited Taiwan after having visited China.

    In China, people told me I was too white, too tall, too large, too American. In Taiwan, people told me: “welcome home.”

    I know that being Taiwanese-American, it is tempting to be a part of something else, because there are so few of us, but it is ok. When you start meeting more people from around the world, especially Europeans, you will find that you are a part of a small group of very well known people.

    I know that we share a heritage with the Chinese, however we are also part of something different. We are a people who have always valued independence, family, and freedom. Did you know that in one of the aboriginal languages in Taiwan, the flower lily, symbolizes wild democracy?

    You are not alone. We, Taiwanese youth in Taiwan, Taiwanese-Americans, adopted Taiwanese-Americans, we are all still working on figuring out what that means to all of us. So do not be afraid of talking to other Taiwanese or Taiwanese-Americans about what it means to be Taiwanese.

    Also there is a week long summer camp called Taiwanese American Youth Leadership Camp. I went there for two summers and it really helped me figure out who I was and what being Taiwanese meant to me, being around other kids my own age and across other ages who were like me.

    All the best, Lily

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