As Jules Rockaway, 46, a retired Delta flight attendant, waited in line at the Target near her home in Grapevine, Texas, she could sense that the customer behind her was staring at her four-year-old daughter, Hayden.
“Where is she from?” the woman bluntly asked, looking first at Rockaway, who is white, then at her daughter, Hayden, who is not.
“I’m from Taiwan,” Hayden replied on her own. “But I’m not really interested in sharing my story today.”
Raising a child can be tough work, but for parents who adopt across racial or cultural lines, the challenges are even greater. Because of differences in skin color, such families often fall victim to unsavory comments or uncomfortable stares, causing some adoptees to feel ashamed of their cultural identity. Thus, for adoptive parents like Lisa Reitan, it is absolutely essential to raise their kids in an environment where they can grow up embracing — and not shunning — their Taiwanese heritage.
“It’s important that she can go back there and be part of that life as well,” said Reitan, 50, a New Yorker who adopted her five-year-old daughter, Paige, from Taiwan. “We don’t want her to feel like she is an outsider anywhere.”
Driven by this common goal, Rockaway, Reitan, Lisa Chaney and Tiffanie Yee connected with one another through blogs and social media and jointly established a support group in 2010 called Taiwan R.O.C.ks (Reuniting Our Children for Kinship and Support), which aims to bring together Taiwanese adoptees and their American parents. In July, the group held its third annual “family reunion” in California — the first one took place in Texas in 2011 — drawing roughly 35 families from across the US.
“People were just streaming tears” the first time they met, said Yee, 37, a Sacramento mother who with her husband Darryl adopted their seven-year-old daughter, Gracyn. “When you are going through a harrowing journey, you rely on people who understand.”
Unlike the other mothers, Yee is a second-generation Chinese American, which in some respects makes raising an adopted Taiwanese child easier because Gracyn draws less unwanted attention. “No one is ever staring at us,” she explained. “[Gracyn] never walks around having to worry about someone saying, ‘Why does she not look like you?’”
But in other respects, it’s more difficult. When she sees an interracial adoptive family with an Asian child, she often has the urge to walk over and congratulate the parents, but sometimes feels apprehensive about doing so, fearing they might assume she is going to question them instead.
“I want to wear a sign on my head that says I, too, am an adoptive parent,” she said.
Rockaway said she believes many Americans choose to adopt from Asia because children there are born with fewer diseases, like fetal alcohol syndrome, and because prenatal care is better.
The Taiwan R.O.C.ks cofounders said they have always felt a calling to adopt, some even after having biological kids. Before Taiwan revised its laws in 2011 to encourage domestic adoptions, the process often took less than a year to complete — the wait much shorter than in China, where cases could drag on for years, the mothers said.
To receive an adoption referral, parents had to submit financial, employment and health records to an American adoption agency, and be interviewed by social workers, they said.