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A defining piece of my identity is that I am a Chinese adoptee. Through my earlier years, I recall my enthusiasm to finger through my collection of stories containing tales of little girls like me, my children’s Bible printed in both Chinese and English, and my array of Chinese CDs.

I was especially enchanted with a particular storybook given to me by my parents. The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairy Tale, which depicted an entangled strand of deep red string that secured a place in the hearts of longing parents while simultaneously attached to a baby girl in China; the tale progressed for the thread to unite them as a family. This adoption fairytale is based on an ancient Chinese belief where an unbreakable invisible red string ties individuals to their future, while connecting “all those who are desired to be together.” This concept is reflected in the intertwinings of my story.

In the span of a new haircut and a few missing teeth, habitually I found myself averting my eyes from the dusty CDs. Just as quickly as I wanted to read stories of girls who looked like me, I began to create stories of my own where I looked like someone else; I imagined my eyes more like my Mom and Dad’s and my hair several shades lighter.

Snip, snip, snip. I attempted to cut all ties with everything that made me different. Impossible! Each attempt welled up persistent pains in my heart. They propelled me forward to an unfamiliar and often uncomfortable journey; a journey that lasted seventeen revolutions around the sun. With each of these revolutions came evolutions. My fascination with fairytales and fantasies morphed as did my pride in my dark silky hair.

Upon reflection of this journey, I have discovered that acknowledgment followed by self-acceptance has allowed me the opportunity to grow to overcome avoidance. Feeling enough comfort in myself and my unique story took me many years. It was not until my final Junior year speech performance, that I recognized this. The IHSA state speech competition was held virtually, so I unmuted myself, and stood tall in my suit and red heels to face my Chromebook screen and finally tell a story I am truly proud of. I kept my composure until immediately after the end of the call. I was floating. The droplets in the corners of my lovely eyes cascaded down my cheeks. Echos of gratitude filled every chamber in my chest. The longings of my heart were different; there was warmth, pleasantness, and self-kindness. I feel great privilege and honor to have shared the beautiful honesty of another adoptees’ story and introduced my own.

Emboldened excitement springs forth as I continue to embrace every component of my identity. The same lingering curiosity and enthrallment with storytelling remain in me as I look optimistically ahead. I will continue in the pursuit of self-understanding whilst actively seeking ways to connect to my Chinese heritage.

Recently, I have reconnected with girls from my support group of Families with Children from China. I have become more intentional about staying in touch with my FCC group, and a few of the girls and I took a trip to Chinatown, Chicago. The following week, I shared with my Sociology class photos and candy from the trip as our unit discussed culture. In addition, another close friend from the group and I have begun learning Mandarin, Chinese together.

I am the first Chinese immigrant of my family; this has helped to shape my worldview as I have greater empathy for others and believe we each are capable of our own beautiful journey.

I hope my story is one of encouragement as I am finding my way into my own voice through a gradual process.

© Madison Hieser . All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team and we can put you in touch with the author’s teacher.