Coming to Terms with My Transracial Adoption

By Ellie Brown, Elizabeth Nguyen

Finding My Roots

“Is she really your sister?”

“Oh, she’s real alright.”

I didn’t realize how alienated I felt by my surroundings during my childhood until I grew into my young adult years. My parents cared greatly for me, I had wonderful friends, a supportive Unitarian Universalist community, and a sea of opportunities. However, continuous microaggressions that I experienced relating to my transracial adoption were quickly internalized. People asked how much I cost, who my real parents were, and why I wasn’t wanted. These along with generally ignorant remarks about my race took a toll on me. My knowledge about my Chinese culture was limited, even though my parents provided me with their best support. I strive to not feel resentment toward them, but at the same time, I could not fully relate to their white experiences as I am a person of color. I still felt as though there were pieces missing in my story. It wasn’t until my later teen years that I started uncovering my roots and started finding answers.

I traveled to China during the summer after my senior year of high school in search of information about my birth family. Prior to this search, I had known that I was found on the Yuxi Bridge in a small town in the Hunan Province of China. I knew that I was left with a packet of sugar—a symbol for good luck in Chinese culture. I know that she was beautiful and that she cared. I was fortunate enough to meet the woman who found me on that bridge nineteen years ago. While I didn’t learn much new information during this trip, I did come to realize that I had many more negative feelings relating to my adoption and racial identity that I wasn’t expecting. Posttraumatic stress disorder became prevalent in my life, and it took many conversations to ease the pain that had been harbored within me since I was young. In many ways, I am still struggling with these same feelings of resentment and loss.

Entering my first year of college, I knew for certain I wanted to connect with other adoptees. In terms of bettering myself and finding peace, I knew that this would be the best thing for me to do. What better place than to do so then at a school with a student body of over 20,000? I attempted to find a club on campus that brought together adopted students, but to my surprise, the results came up empty. I took this opportunity to create one with my friend and fellow adoptee, Lia Walton. I soon then became the co-founder of The Adoptee and Foster Student Association at Virginia Commonwealth University, and I couldn’t have been more proud of myself. We started this organization with the purpose of bringing together adoptees and those who have been through foster care through group talk sessions to connect and relate. We also offer volunteer opportunities working with foster care children and teens.

One opportunity we offered was a weekend grief retreat for foster youth. While I was not in the same exact position they were in, we had many shared experiences that could not go ignored. They helped me understand that there will always be questions that will go unanswered. They inspired me to take the anger and doubt I felt and turn it into change and strength. The friends that I made at the Unitarian Universalist Association Multicultural Leadership School this past summer taught me many of the same lessons. Identity is something that everyone struggles with, and those with shared hardships will always be there for me to validate my experiences. I believe that I have reached a point of serenity with my identity as a transracial adoptee that I have never reached before. These feelings are bound to fluctuate, and I’ve felt better on some days than others, but I know that I am on my way to solving my puzzle.

Because it’s never too late to uncover your roots.


Ellie visting China.

Ellie, center, with members of the organization she co-founded.
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