Taking charge of our own lives

A few years ago, I was interviewed by a college student who was a First Nations transracial adoptee. During the course of the interview, we talked about where each of us had grown up and when I mentioned my hometown, she asked if I knew M. I was shocked to find out that M. was a First Nations transracial adoptee. I had known M. throughout my whole childhood, as early back as elementary school. We lived a few neighborhoods away and played at each other's homes a few times. Like a lot of grade school friendships, we found ourselves in separate social groups in junior high although we often walked to school together and remained friendly. In all the years that M. and I knew each other, it never occured to me that we were both transracial adoptees. Of course, in hindsight, it was perfectly clear. After finding out about M. I wondered why neither of us had ever given voice to our situation. Here I had thought all these years that I was "the only" when in fact, there were more of us than I remembered. This is how the isolation of transracial adoptees functions in majority-White communities, where there is no language to talk about what is going on. We learn to ignore or discount what is right before our eyes.

I bring this up, because this past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to collaborate with and socialize with some amazing fellow transracial adoptees. One night we were talking and one of my TRA friends mentioned how she recently found out a friend of hers in high school was also a TRA. Like me and my friend M., she and her friend had never once discussed their similar situation or experience.

Sometimes when I visit culture or adoption camps for kids and see all these younger TRAs forming friendships, or when my TRA friends in their 20s talk about the friendships they made at culture camps or culture schools, I get a little wistful. I suppose that is why now, at 40 years old, I especially cherish all the TRA friends I have in my life. This weekend, surrounded by John, Lisa Marie, Shannon, Jennifer, Katie, Jen, Kim, Lisa, Michelle, Robert, Lola, Kasey, and many others, nourished my soul. Not only did I have the wonderful opportunity to strategize and plan professional collaborations, it was a chance to be with others in a place mentally and physically where we didn't have to explain so much, where others "got it," and where we could relax and let our shoulders down.

It's not about not loving our adoptive families. It's not about being anti-adoption. It's not about didactic conversations about either/or scenarios.

It is about our lives as adults who have lost so much as a result of the separation from our birth families and birth countries. It's about making sure that all of you – adoptive parents and adoption agencies – understand.


The tide is turning. I can feel it. We still have a ways to go – there are many who still want to infantalize us, treat us paternalistically, like we are still children. But I can feel a change in the wind. It's calling our names.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

3 thoughts

  1. “It is about our lives as adults who have lost so much as a result of the separation from our birth families and birth countries. It’s about making sure that all of you – adoptive parents and adoption agencies – understand.”

  2. I’m so glad the conference was a success. Sounds like everyone really got a lot from it.
    Your story about knowing other TRAs but not realizing it rung home for me. We’ve lived across the street from another TRA family for over a year now. The parents are white, the kids are black. Just last week my 8 year old asked some question about their birthmom and my 5 year old could not believe they were adopted, too. She argued with us about it for quite some time.
    It occurs to me if I want to make sure my kids realize they are not the only ones living in adopted families, I need to be more plain about the people we are connected to. Kids perceive and experience the world so differently from adults sometimes.

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