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Asian adoptees: You are not alone

A 10-month-old Ashley Westerman is held by her mother for the first time at the Heart of Mary Villa orphanage in Manila, Philippines, in 1988.
Ashley Westerman
A 10-month-old Ashley Westerman is held by her mother for the first time at the Heart of Mary Villa orphanage in Manila, Philippines, in 1988.

"How did you find your biological mother? I want to find mine too."

This was the subject of an email that showed up in my inbox recently. A girl adopted from Guatemala was seeking advice on how to start the search for the woman who gave birth to her.

I get a lot of emails with this or similar subject lines and I know why. In 2018, I detailed my personal journey to find my Filipino birth mother in a three-part series for NPR. The process was surprisingly simple. In the end, I closed the door on a near-lifelong goal with little more than a putter.

Since my story aired, I’ve received dozens of emails from other adoptees about finding their birth parents. They trickle in, every other month or so, from people in various stages of the process. But they’re all searching for one thing:

To finally talk to someone else with whom they have something in common.

What led these people to me — I've only written about my experience of finding my birth mother once — is an utter lack of stories in the media and Hollywood about adoptees and their experiences. In a time when intersectionality and complication are crucial to people’s identities, adoptees are, somehow, still being left out of the conversation.

They're left out despite the fact that millions of international adoptees live in the U.S. and contribute to society. It's a population that's growing, as the multi-billion dollar intercountry adoption industry continues to bring thousands of adoptees to the U.S. each year from around the world.

This feeling of being overlooked was acutely felt by many Asian adoptees, which make up the majority of international adoptees in the U.S., since the wave of violence against Asian Americans began amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As Asians, we felt fear. But as adoptees, our fear was often dismissed by our white families and our “more Asian” friends.

Asian American Pacific Islander Month makes me squeamish. I know I'm not likely to see stories or coverage of the Asian American adoptee community during this “celebration.” This is ironic, given that this month has such a ridiculously long name because it’s a catch-all title that attempts to encompass everyone with a background from Lebanon to Rapanui. Yet, in its attempt to include everyone, AAPI month manages to further other those of us who don’t fit in its already monstrous box.

Frankly, it shouldn’t be up to adoptees to address the coverage gap when it comes to our stories. But we should also not be afraid to tell our stories either; I know people just need a little push sometimes.

So, to the Asian adoptees out there: You are not alone this month. I see you. And perhaps, if enough of us tell our own stories, others will see us too.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.