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