Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lucky Girl - answers to questions readers asked

Tuesday, May 26th - Sunday, June 7th this blog hosted a book discussion surrounding Taiwanese-American adoptee Mei-Ling Hopgood's memoir "Lucky Girl."

Author Mei-Ling Hopgood graciously answered questions that you asked stemming from our book discussion. Here's what she has to say. Thank you again, Mei-Ling, for sharing so much with us. Your questions are listed below in bold with the author's answers in italics.

I'd be interested in knowing what Hopgood believes the role of adoptive parents should be in helping children reunite with their original families. It will probably be many years before the ones who were adopted as babies express a desire to search for them, if they do. Until then, what would she recommend APs do to keep the communication channels active so that a reunion might happen? In our case, we've sent several letters to our child's Taiwanese family with the hopes of keeping lines open. However, we've never received any responses. At the same time, we want to respect their privacy and possible need to distance themselves from any pain resulting from the adoption. We don't want to be pushy, but we don't want the trail to go cold from time and distance. Any thoughts?

Over time, my parents collected what information they could about my birth family, keeping documents and the precious letters that the nun who arranged my adoption from Taiwan sent me. They gave those to me when I asked for more information. They let me set the pace of what I wanted to know. I really appreciated that, especially later in life and when I was writing the book. I didn't ask much before adulthood, because I didn't have any interest. That said, I don’t think you can really force the issue with the birth family or your child. You can do as much as you can do, and I think your child will understand that. (Another note: it is not a given that your child will want reunion.)

How does your Taiwanese family feel about the publicity surrounding your book now that it's been released? Has being public with your life story changed any relationships? Feel free not to answer this question if it is too personal. Of course we'll understand. We're grateful you've shared so much already.

Actually I wrote an essay on this that will be published in devourerofbooks.com in a couple weeks. They are pretty isolated from the publicity of the book in Taiwan. They've "read" it (as much as they can with their limited English), seen postings on the web, etc. They've reacted with congratulations, but despite my best efforts (sending the manuscript over and over in email and hard copy) their understanding of my book is limited and probably always will be (unless it is bought and translated in Chinese). So far the book has not changed any relationships that I can tell.

Adoptees react to their adoptions in such varying ways. In your opinion, what makes the difference between an adoptee who is at peace with his/her adoption and one who is resentful of it?

Each adoptee is so different in this respect. I think it is important to recognize that some are not going to want anything to do with their birth family or "homeland" and others are. The relationship with the adoptive family plays an important role, I think, but so does the adoptee's personality, perspective, circumstances, confidence, experience in America. All views are legitimate. In my personal situation (and that of my brothers who could not find information about their birth family) I think the most important thing is that my American parents were supportive of whatever path we took, whether we wanted to know more about our birth families or cultures or not.

Do you get any feedback, positive or negative, from other adult international adoptees for your outlook on your adoption experience and/or sharing your life so publicly?

I have gotten good reaction. One of the important points I think I've tried to make is that my perspective is my own. I don't pretend that anyone else will feel the same. I didn't write this book to make any big pronouncements about adoption or reunions with birth families, even though I know both of those events were major turning points in my life.

Do you have any advice for adoptive parents, such as something your parents encouraged you to do while you were growing up?

My parents were just supportive and loving. We are not a perfect family all the time – we had our quibbles like any other – but when it came down to it, my mom and dad helped us be the people we wanted to be.

Like I said, I didn't write Lucky Girl to make any pronouncements about adoption or reunions… but I can touch on one little point that comes up a lot during my talks.

One parent in a reading asked me, given my experience and frustration with not being able to communicate with my family in Taiwan, if I wished I had not refused Mandarin school (which I did). Sure, I wish I spoke more Mandarin/Taiwanese. But honestly, a once-a-week class would not have prepared me for my experience. I did what I could to learn the Chinese I could and dealt with it. I'm still glad I studied Spanish and lived in Mexico during college. I'm glad my parents encouraged me to have a global, diverse view, that included China-Taiwan but was not limited to it.

It is wonderful that families are concerned about exposing their children to language, culture etc. and I understand the desire to know as much as possible about the birth family in case one day a child asks. All that is good. My parents tried to do what they can in this respect (detailed in LG), including encouraging language lessons or my brother to study in Korea etc. However, I think some people feel extreme pressure to manufacture a Chinese culture for their daughters and sons. The truth of the matter is that – especially if the child was young when he or she was adopted – the most important culture is the one in your house, neighborhood, your family's way of living – your family's culture. Their experience will be that of an Asian (or other race) American not of a child growing up in China. It's wonderful and important to help your children have a sense of history and identity, and language, etc. but don't overly stress when your kid says they want to quit Mandarin class for now. Because ultimately, they are American kids, your kids. In my humble opinion, it's most important that the child feels loved, grounded in your family and the place where they are living and growing up. Then, they really can handle any issues and questions that might come their way later.

In the promotional video for your book, you describe yourself as "just another one of the endless, unwanted baby girls born to and discarded by poor Chinese families." While being poor and female are big reasons for why many children in China are given up for adoption, the reasons are often different for Taiwanese adoptions (i.e, imprisoned parents, substance abuse, teenaged pregnancies, mental illness, etc.) In light of your statement and of Taiwan's (partial) push for independence from China, your statement makes me curious: do you view yourself as Chinese or Taiwanese?

Both, but I try to be as precise on this as possible as not to enter into the Chinese-Taiwan debate (because that isn't what my story is about.) My family is Chinese, originally from Fujin, and immigrated to Kinmen. They moved to Taiwan before I was born. The Chinese culture and traditional way of thinking influenced quite a bit my adoption, but my sisters would say they are from Taiwan.


  1. Mei Ling, and Sarah, thank you SO much for writing and posting this. I loved reading it and it makes me so much more confident in my ability to be a good adoptive mom (to 3, one from Taiwan). Thanks again, I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.

  2. Mei-Ling,

    Thanks for providing such thoughtful answers to the questions. I especially appreciated your insight into "manufacturing culture" for our Asian-born kids who grow up in America. While I certainly want to do the best I can to provide my son with a familiarity with his heritage, your comments took away some of the immense pressure I feel to get everything "right."

    Thanks for being such an involved part of the discussion. By sharing your journey with the world, you've given both adoptees and adoptive parents a solid resource to better understand the complexities of trans-racial adoption and reunion.

  3. Just wanted to add my thanks to Sarah for hosting the discussion and to Mei-Ling for writing her book. I really enjoyed reading it.

    Sarah - there is a discussion thread about Lucky Girl that has just started over on RQ, would it be okay for me to post a link to your blog so the RQ readers who don't know about the discussion here can find there way over?


  4. I can't wait to read this book! Thanks so much for sharing!!

    Our blog: Double Happiness!


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