This was my biggest secret while growing up. It was a part of who I was, yet I was never ready to share it with anyone- even to people whom I considered my closest friends. To begin, I was originally born in Taichung, Taiwan. At the age of three, I moved to California where I was adopted into my multiracial family. It consisted of my white dad, Asian mom, and two golden retrievers, Max and Simba. In short, I had an interesting childhood.
Looking back, other people always looked at us funny- my dad and I in particular. Once, when I was four, I was in the play area of McDonald’s crying over losing my favorite ball. My dad, being my dad, came over to try to calm me down, but he didn’t understand what was wrong. The louder I cried, the more looks we got. Thinking about it now, we got a lot of strange glares that day. A young white male trying to console a small Asian boy. Sounds funny when you think about it. I was eventually calmed down by a phone call from my mom, but it was that time that I realized how different I was.
Middle school was the first time friend groups formed based on shared interests and/or cultural identities. When it came time to decide which group I should join, I was stuck at a crossroad. Should I join the Asian group just because I looked like them, or should I join a different group because of my unique background? I had never questioned my cultural identity before-- it never seemed like a big deal until I was trying to make friends. People were so fascinated that I was half-Asian and half-White. According to them, I had the “best of both worlds.” At this point in my life, I was in limbo.
I had so many opportunities to tell people that I was adopted, but I never took them and I don’t know why. 8th grade biology class was the first opportunity I had. We were studying genes and inheritance and the teacher told us to map out our own genetic history and discuss it with our peers. It never occurred to me that I would run into any problems, but when my classmates started asking me questions about my family, it made me nervous. “Why don’t you look more half? You have a White dad.” I froze for a second and told them off. “I just inherited more of my mom’s genes. You know, that dominant and recessive stuff.” I don’t know why I lied to my peers. Was it because being called “halfie” was normal to me? Because I liked that status as a “halfie”? Or maybe it was because I was afraid of losing friends if they found out the truth. Regardless, from then on, I never had the courage to tell the truth.
Ever since that moment, I was scared that people would start questioning me again. I became closed off and introverted in high school. I didn’t have many close friends and would keep the friends I did have at arms-length. I didn’t want to risk losing them if they had ever found out. Keeping them at a distance felt lonely. I didn’t have anyone to confide in—not even my parents. They were very hands off and felt that I was mature enough to take care of myself. All my friends grew up with their biological parents. They all had someone to confide in when things got tough. I, on the other hand, saw no one I could point to as my biological family. I really missed that connection.
I tried to ignore that feeling of loneliness and I was doing okay until--
“You’re not even part of this family. You’re not even related to us.”
There were a few moments of silence to let that sink in. My cousin and I had gotten in a terrible fight and he soon came towards me to apologizing, but I couldn’t hear him. I couldn’t do anything but look away. I had never felt more alone.
It may have hurt, but the pain eventually faded away. I doubt my cousin even remembers that argument we had. I was resolved to move on and to change for the better. I knew I could be different once I accepted who I was. I didn’t want to hide anymore. At our senior retreat we had one last gathering as a class. The teachers gave us a chance to speak our minds and asked for volunteers. I was scared, but I wanted to make a change. After a deep breath, I stood up.
“Hi everyone… I just wanted to say that I am adopted.”
Apparently, this big secret that I’ve been carrying was not as big as I built it up to be. Everyone still treated me the same and my friends were still my friends. Instead of turning away, as I feared, they all came to give me a big hug. Internally, I felt like a weight had left my shoulders. I felt like a whole new person. For once in my life, I was being honest with myself.
Fast forward to today, I’m not that same shy, unsure guy I was. I’m a lot more outgoing and always trying to make an effort to talk to new people. Being in the Asian American community, I’ve been able to get in touch with my Asian heritage. I was also able to join ICASP (Illinois Cultural Adopted Student Program). Through this program, I was able to meet other adopted people and talk to parents about my experiences. All in all, I’ve embraced the fact that I am adopted and am very I’m proud of the person I have grown into.
My name is Jeffrey Hanke and I’m adopted.