Year of the tiger, year of my reconquest

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Every year on February 28, we devour the same KFC meal and commemorate Gotcha Day, sometimes called Homecoming Day or Adoption Day. Like many families around the world, we found our own unique way to celebrate the day we came together.

God chose us for each other, my parents always tell me. My father defends me through joyful and devastating moments. He’s my number one fan at everything from helping me book a 5 a.m. flight to writing my first print article at my family’s house. My mother’s unwavering love emboldened and inspired me, showing me the power of undeserved forgiveness. Nothing can shake the bond of my family.

The anniversary of my adoption also signifies the beginning of a life where I would benefit from my proximity to whiteness and all the privileges that go with it. This year, I acknowledge what I have gained while acknowledging what I lost through adoption.

I was born in China, but I didn’t take any Chinese culture or tradition with me. Dim Sum, Lunar New Year, Mandarin, what does the color red mean? I didn’t grow up with it.

When a friend described his dinner to me several months ago, I couldn’t relate to the hot pot experience any more than when my cousin first mentioned Korean barbecue. My mind could only imagine fried chicken dipped in barbecue sauce.

As a transracial adoptee who grew up in a predominantly white Indiana town and is the only Asian person in my family, I never felt like I really belonged in the Asian-American community or to white America. Experiencing pervasive racism day after day was normal for me.

Food is an integral part of Asian culture and a way to bring people together. I normally leaned towards Italian and American cuisine, but as I devoured the bao in Chinatown, I realized that I didn’t necessarily prefer pasta – I had simply never been exposed to a range of Asian dishes.

When I moved to Boston for college, I started engaging with my own ethnicity. The students weren’t watching. I ate dim sum for the first time. Now that I live in San Francisco, I am waking up even more to the culture of my native country.

I can now count on two hands the number of times I’ve shared dumplings, hotpot, Korean BBQ, boba tea and Thai food around people who look like me. I hope one day to lose track.

I learn about self-love and the power of shared culture. The year 2022 marked the first time I celebrated the Lunar New Year.

With patience and warmth, my friend Melisa, who was a stranger less than two months ago, explained Chinese New Year traditions for good fortune: always wear red and never white, give two oranges because they bring happiness, and dress up in a brand new outfit. new year’s day.

We relished the experience of hand making shrimp and lamb dumplings together. As we assembled a Yee Sang prosperity salad, we sang “Gong xi fa cai”, using chopsticks to vigorously toss the salad in the air for good luck.

People around the world honored the Year of the Tiger that night. How could the courage of the tiger inspire my own bravery as I seek to reconnect with my cultural roots?

That night, I bonded with another Asian-American friend whose childhood experience resembled mine, and together we created a list of small and big acts I could take to connect with my culture. Revisiting Asia was a dream — and coincidentally, I’m currently in Singapore on a business trip.

I signed up for a Mandarin course during my freshman year of college, and despite ending the course with a C+, I dared to make a lifelong commitment to learning my native language.

All I’ve ever known is America and my adoptive parents. It’s hard for me to imagine a life outside of this – and why would I want to? My parents’ unconditional love for me will always be enough, and through them I’ve been privileged to have opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Yet, with online genealogy societies, I imagined the possibility of a reunion of adopted biological parents. Would I tell my mom how proud I am of myself for starting to rebuild a life with my native culture as the foundation? How would I imagine the physical resemblances we shared? Why did she give me up for adoption? Maybe I would finally be able to find out if my family had a history of heart disease or psoriasis after spending a lifetime of blankly staring at medical forms. I sent my saliva sample in the mail last month.

In the meantime, I have found community in the most mundane and exquisite circumstances. A coastal road trip with Jenny to Big Sur where we bonded over the damaging fetishization we face as Asian women. Balancing a shot of soju between two chopsticks over a glass full of beer while James and Allen showed me the best way to drink this Korean beer cocktail. Gazing admiringly at Melisa when she said over a plate of shared jeweled rice that she had always been proud to be Asian. We regrouped on a ski trip to Palisades at Lake Tahoe with Fabi and Amanda as we recounted the countless times we were the only Asian person in the room. I cry slow, sweet tears as I think back to all the healing moments of the past two months.

Kami Rieck, second from left, and his friends celebrate the Lunar New Year.

So many strangers and new friends have shown me how to turn past pain into strength. For a fleeting moment, I allowed myself to believe that maybe racial trauma could be used for something. Past experiences allowed us to relate to each other in a raw and vulnerable way that nothing else could. We had met and I promised myself that no one would ever shame me for my Chinese identity again.

Being Asian is only one facet of my identity – but it’s a big part that I’ve been missing for 22 years of my life. In this way, with Lunar New Year and Gotcha Day, I am learning to reclaim myself.

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