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Adopted from India as children, many Indian origin adoptees wish to search for their birth parents. What drives them?
By Miriam Gaenicke
Imagine you live in a Western nation where hardly anyone bears any resemblance to you (especially your own parents), mostly everyone is Caucasian and very few of your peers have black hair and olive skin.
I always had full access to my Indian passport and photographs, which recorded my ten months of Indian foster care and information about being adopted from India. But growing up, I was the “All-American Kid” who loved school, her parents and friends. Furthermore, I was THE tallest and stuck out like a sore thumb.
Aside from my family with two fellow adopted siblings, my first casual encounter with another Indian peer was on my primary school playground. My soon-to-be friend, Rahab, asked me, “Are you from India?” I replied, “Yes,” but quickly noticed that she was darker and shorter than me even though she was also one year older than me (and in lower primary school terms, that’s an eternity).
At the time, it did not occur to me that we originated from different regions of India. And WHY would it? I was just a child. Eventually, I learned most Indians in my Central California region were shorter and darker than me; many came from Punjab and Gujarat.
Most people take full advantage of knowing their parents and birth information such as their birth weight, parents’ religion, delivery method and obstetric history. But throughout my 36 years of existence, eternal questions sit in the back of my mind: “Why don’t more Indians resemble me? Aside from Southern India, where does this population live? What does my birth family look like and how do I resemble them?”
I had yet to find any answers to the last and most important question until last year when I sent a random email to my birth hospital via an online request. Surprisingly, within hours, I received a response from the hospital’s physical therapist. This conversation led to my receiving my birth information. For me, this was a miraculous event! Very few Indian children adopted to the United States from the 1960s & 1970s have any birth information.
For many Indian adoptees, one’s birthday is simply unknown. In my case, it has always been known. According to Dr. Kripa Cooper-Lewter, fellow Indian adoptee and Social Work Professor at University of South Carolina, my situation is very unique. Only 5% of Indian children who were adopted to the United States in the 1970’s have access to their specific birth information.
From the Indian American community, I have often heard these equally pressing statements, ‘‘You have a great adoptive family. Why do you feel the need to search for your Indian family?” There are many reasons WHY I (and many adoptees) feel inclined to search for at least one of our birth parents. The main reason is the innate need to know our roots.
You have a great adoptive family. Why do you feel the need to search for your Indian family?
Basic human biology proves this. Adoption is an act of will and it’s natural to want to know more. Curiosity and the need to complete our identities are elements which naturally spark us to ask, “What do my parents look like? Who ‘has’ my spunky personality? And why am I so tall (1.73m)?” Having access to our own medical history is also a major concern. Adopted individuals often need to know medical conditions we may be passing on to our children, and what to expect in our futures.
Of course there is the ultimate question, “Why was I given up for adoption?” Looking in the mirror asking these questions is no different to a non-adoptee looking in the mirror and telling themselves, “I have my mom’s hair, dad’s eyes, and grandma’s sense of humour.” These statements for biological children have answers, while the adoptees’ questions do not.
A mirror is a powerful tool for both parties: adopted and biological. The next time you look in the mirror, please take a look at yourself and think of the thousands of Indian adoptees who have very little and/or no idea of their heritage and early beginnings. It may stun you, sadden you or simply give you a glimpse into our entire lives.
*Photo credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)