Author weighs iden­tity of Chi­nese birth, U.S. adop­tion

Austin American-Statesman - - LIFE & ARTS - TARA A. TROWER

So much of mod­ern par­ent­ing re­volves around the ques­tion: “Am I do­ing the right thing?” The un­cer­tain­ties that plague us are part and par­cel of be­ing charged with an­other hu­man life. There are a mil­lion de­ci­sions to be made, big and small. We only can hope the choices we make for our chil­dren are the right ones.

Mei-Ling Hop­good’s mem­oir “Lucky Girl” doc­u­ments the jour­ney to un­der­stand the choices of her Tai­wanese birth par­ents. In 1974, Hop­good was among the first Chi­nese ba­bies to be adopted in the West. She was raised in sub­ur­ban Michi­gan, but through a chance Christ­mas card mes­sage at the age of 23 em­barked on a se­ries of trips to the land of her birth to re­con­nect with her bi­o­log­i­cal fam­ily.

In the year since the book’s ini­tial re­lease, Hop­good has trav­eled from her cur­rent home in Ar­gentina to meet with groups of adop­tive par­ents in the U.S. look­ing to gain some in­sight from her ex­pe­ri­ence. In fact, she and her mother, Chris Hop­good, will be in Austin next Satur­day at First Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist Church for just such an event. By virtue of her age and be­ing a mother her­self, Hop­good’s story gives a rare voice to the adult adoptee (the lion’s share of Chi­nese adop­tions in the U.S. have hap­pened since 1992).

“The par­ents ask lots of ques­tions,” says Hop­good. “I think in me and my mom, they see what could be with their own chil­dren.”

The choices she deals with in the book are many: Her mother and fa­ther in Michi­gan give Hop­good and her Korean-born broth­ers op­por­tu­ni­ties to learn about their home­lands. Not so im­por­tant, she says. She re­fused her par­ents’ of­fer to go to Chi­nese school and wanted to learn Span­ish, not Man­darin. Like most kids, she and her broth­ers just wanted to fit in. She ad­vises adop­tive par­ents to find Asian Amer­i­can role mod­els in ad­di­tion to study­ing the her­itage of mu­sic, art and lan­guage.

In the case of her birth fam­ily, the choice to give her — the sixth girl — up af­ter se­cretly adopt­ing a boy from an­other fam­ily looms large. It’s an ex­am­ple of the com­plex and heart­break­ing dy­namic in Chi­nese so­ci­ety that has his­tor­i­cally placed a higher value on sons com­pared with daugh­ters.

As she gets to know her sis­ters, Hop­good gets a glimpse what might have hap­pened if she had been raised in Tai­wan in­stead of Amer­i­can sub­ur­bia. Her Chi­nese sis­ters are ed­u­cated and in­de­pen­dent but still suf­fer the emo­tion tu­mult of their fa­ther’s un­quench­able de­sire for a son to “com­plete” their fam­ily. And there are other dark se­crets, too, which are only un­rav­eled over the course of a decade of vis­its and cor­re­spon­dence.

Given Hop­wood’s back­ground as a jour­nal­ist she finds a way to ask her fam­ily the tough ques­tions, de­spite the lan­guage bar-

rier. Why? Their an­swer: We thought we were do­ing the right thing. Ouch. But Hop­good’s book is a re­minder that chil­dren even­tu­ally get to choose, too. And though this can be fright­en­ing for par­ents (What if they re­ject me and my val­ues?), it is also lib­er­at­ing. Who our kids be­come is not en­tirely up to us and our choices.

Hop­good chose as an adult to em­brace a her­itage that she had pre­vi­ously tried to dis­tance her­self from, while defin­ing her­self as an Asian Amer­i­can. She ul­ti­mately chose the terms of her re­la­tion­ship with her fam­ily in Tai­wan, de­spite mis­giv­ings about their choices in mar­riage and as par­ents and de­spite the un­break­able bonds of love for her fam­ily in the U.S.

“We all have com­pli­cated fam­i­lies, and we have to de­cide their in­flu­ence on our lives. My cir­cum­stances were crazy, but we all have ques­tions of in­ter­nal iden­tity that only we can find the an­swers to.”

Hop­good, who is fin­ish­ing her next book, is care­ful to point out that her ex­pe­ri­ence should not be taken as the de­fin­i­tive Chi­nese adop­tion story. It is im­pos­si­ble to speak for ev­ery­one, nor does she want to.

“It turned out well in my fam­ily,” she says. “There are so many com­pli­cated fac­tors about how a fam­ily turns out. Adop­tion is just one fac­tor. It’s how you en­ter the fam­ily. It’s what hap­pens af­ter that makes you who you are.”

Author Mei-Ling Hop­good and her mother, Chris Hop­good, share sto­ries when they talk to fam­i­lies about rais­ing a child adopted from China.

Mei-Ling Hop­good

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