I always knew that I looked different than my family, but I never felt like I didn’t belong. In fact, I always felt like I took after my mom in a lot of ways, including her tendency to over-think everything as well as her unwavering generosity towards those she cared about. My mom’s unconditional love always provided me with a sense of grounding and a strong sense of acceptance. Even though we didn’t look alike, there was never a question that I was her daughter, and she was my mom.
I was raised in a primarily white neighborhood of east Baltimore in a largely Polish-German part of town, a few blocks away from Patterson Park. I have really fond memories of my grandma’s brick rowhome where we spent a lot of our holidays making sauerkraut and kielbasa in her summer kitchen. I also have a lot of really tough memories of cruel white kids in the neighborhood pulling their eyes back, speaking jibberish to me and ignorantly calling me “Chinese.”
Generally, I really valued being different despite the tough experiences. It made me super-independent and free-thinking, which was a good thing. It made me a stronger person. I was really self-aware and able to share my adoption story at the drop of a hat. (And it seemed like mom and I couldn’t even leave a grocery store without having to tell it at least once!) On the flip side, there were times where I felt isolated because of how independent I was. People can be intimidated by independent people.
Looking back, I see that I had my own contributions to being isolated. I was a little too independent and too strong at times. Maybe because it was easier to put up guards to protect myself so that people couldn’t get close enough to hurt me. Since realizing how isolating being uber-independent could be, I’ve actually spent a lot of my adult life learning how and when to allow these walls to crumble. It’s a work in progress.