On our way home from a road trip, my family stopped in a small town in Southern California to stretch our legs and eat lunch.
We walked into the town’s visitor center, where I began looking at the brochures lining the walls.
“Oh, hello there!” a loud, crisp voice said behind me. “Are you enjoying your exchange program in America?”
I turned to see a middle-aged woman.
Naturally, I looked very confused, and this confusion sparked her next question.
“Do-you-speak-English?” she asked slowly and clearly.
“Uhhh… yeah,” I responded, dumbfounded.
I looked incredulously over at my parents, who shrugged, and made “I don’t know what just happened” sort of looks.
Another time, a man asked my father (while I stood right there) if I could speak English!
These are questions that I’ve been asked multiple times because I bear no resemblance to my parents.
Some kids don’t have the same eye or hair color as their parents, and I’m one of them. On top of that, I’m not the same race either.
But I don’t identify with my ethnicity, since I spent only 10 months in China before I was adopted.
It’s not that my parents haven’t tried to teach me about my homeland. They read me Chinese folk tales at bedtime, and sent me to a Chinese-culture camp for two years (that I didn’t enjoy, but that’s a whole other story). I just haven’t been raised to feel Chinese.
Of course, strangers don’t know that.
After overcoming my original shock, I nonchalantly tell them the simple truth: I’m adopted, and these lovely white folks are my parents.
Although I’ve been asked similar questions many times, I’m still surprised, especially considering the diversity of Sacramento and California.
And it’s not like adoption is a new concept (2,036 Chinese babies were adopted by Americans in 2013).
It’s obvious to me that I am my parents’ daughter because of the way we joke together, even in public.
A favorite pastime of my father’s and mine is embarrassing my mother by dancing and singing in grocery stores while she attempts to shop (and pretends she doesn’t know us).
This is probably not normal exchange-student behavior.
So next time you equate race and family, please think of all the possibilities of our relationship. Perhaps they’re my aunt and uncle, some family friends or maybe even my parents.
Or if you can’t wrap your head around that, feel free to compliment me on my English-speaking abilities.
After all, by the time I was 11 months old, I was already babbling about Mom, Dad and our dog Watson.
(Watch for upcoming blogs by Nicole Wolkov in the online Octagon.)
—By Nicole Wolkov