This is the presentation that I gave to the British Adoption and Fostering Agency yesterday
Hello my name is Lucy; I was one of the 106 Hong Kong Chinese foundlings that came over to the UK during the late 50s and into the 60s as part of the Hong Kong Project.
A white family adopted me like many of my fellow foundlings. The family that adopted me already had a son of their own plus, a Chinese daughter that they had adopted from the same orphanage in Hong Kong; though we were not related save having come from the same children’s home in Hong Kong. For me the experience of being adopted was both positive and negative. Especially in my formative years.
Attitudes of the day, I think dictated how the people who adopted me chose to deal with the fact of me being of a different race and culture. It was a subject that we did not talk about. It was the elephant in the room. I was curious and as I grew up I become more and more curious. Pushing to know more, who was I? What was I?
It has taken many years of therapy and personal soul searching to reach the place that I occupy now. To have found a balance and contentment with who and what I am, or perhaps what I am not.
Let me make it perfectly clear that I am profoundly grateful for having been adopted. Had I not been I’m sure that I would not be standing here today addressing you as I do now. I certainly would not have become the person that I am. Or have entered the creative arts sector as a professional. I have had to fight my way through silence, prejudice and out and out racism from a very early age.
Having been rejected at infant school by the incumbent school bully to the institutionalized racism which sadly still creeps along the corridors of industry even now in the 21st century in supposedly multicultural Britain. I personally have had to come to terms with the fact as someone who looks to all intensive purposes to “be” Chinese that I am and always will be “incomplete”.
The loss of my mother tongue and my cultural heritage marked me out to those in the Chinese speaking community as someone to be wary of, as someone not to be trusted, not Chinese. For those from the indigenous Caucasian community I was an outsider. A foreigner. The reasons for not being able to connect with my birth culture and language are many and varied, but mostly ‘of the time’. The clean break attitude was what was considered the best approach.
Now there is no excuse, no reason why a transracially adopted child cannot retain cultural and linguistic links until such time they reach their majority and may decide to set aside such matters. But at least they will have the basic tools to be able to communicate in their own language should they ever need or feel the need to do so. Something, that when I was younger hit me very hard. The feelings of rejection, the feeling of inadequacy, embarrassment of not being able to respond to a fellow countryman, followed by the looks of suspicion.
I did not have the advantages of language courses, of the World Wide Web or the opportunities to learn. I am neither pro nor anti Transracial adoption. But I would say, it is my personal view, that transracial adoption should be the very last resort.
Identity is a strange beast; it is overlooked and taken for granted by those who do not have to question who or what they are in society. But for those of us who do not benefit from the reflection of society’s mirror re-enforcing our physiognomy it is elusive. Making us wander the no man’s land between two cultures, two lineages two distinct “what might have beens”. To ensure that children remain in their country of origin. This should be the first choice.
For those of you that are considering transracial adoption I salute you. It is challenging path that you have embarked upon. But take it from one that has trodden that road. As parents you have the onerous responsibility of equipping your children with all the tools to deal with life and that includes the unsavory and negative aspects of life.
It is crucial that we assist those children who are being uprooted from their country of origin to be placed for adoption in another country and make their journey of self identification easier.
I would hope that in this day and age of information that no transracially adopted child would be kept in the dark about where they came from. That they would be taught their mother-tongue and get to know in depth their culture and heritage. And I am not referring to a cursory Sunday school that teaches children a few traditional songs by rote and does a few collages about the moon festival.
I was not given the choice of whether I retained my Chinese name, learnt to speak Chinese or was instructed in Chinese culture and heritage. It is something that for many, many years left a gap in my being, in my identity. It is something that I never fully come to terms with.
Incomplete as I am, I am now whole. I am proud to be who I am a child of both the East and the West. But it has been a long and difficult road and one that I would not willingly wish onto another.
In spite of the challenges of being Chinese and transracially adopted I have survived. I have prevailed. The challenges that I encountered as a child, the bullying, the prejudice and racism have in some ways made me what I am today.
I would not be here if the history of this country had not tied Hong Kong to it’s apron strings. Hong Kong would not be the Special Administrative Region of China that it is to day had the British not taken it as a crown colony
And I would not be the proud British-Chinese actor, writer and filmmaker that stands before you now.