Smore Stories – Daring To Journey Through Adoption..

by Marisha

Tara Bradford has initiated an exciting new series on her blog. As an adoptee and an adoptive mother, she has a wealth of experience from both perspectives which can inspire and enrich the rest of us. Follow the link below to read her description.

Thank you, Tara!

Smore Stories – Daring To Journey Through Adoption...

Tara Bradford

Tara Bradford

Small but Important Messages in Rhodes-Courter’s “Three Little Words”

by Luanne

Have you seen the “baby” photos of Latrell Higgins which have gone viral?  He’s 13 and was adopted at age ten.  As a professional photographer, his adoptive mom Kelly Higgins takes photographs of newborns, and Latrell said he wanted some baby pix of himself.  So his mom complied.  They were laughing very hard during the shoot, but the end result is a very sweet adoption announcement.  This Huffington Post article describes the story in more detail.o-KELLI-HIGGINS-570

This photo resonated with me right now because I had just finished reading Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s memoir Three Little Words, which I wrote about in last Monday’s post.  Ashley was a foster child who lived in over a dozen foster homes and a shelter.  She was abused and neglected and lost in the system.  But because she eventually got a wonderful guardian ad litem to advocate for her, she ended up in an adoptive home.

In Ashley’s story, she describes how Gay Courter, her final foster mother and eventual adoptive mother, discovered that nobody had ever read a bedtime story to 13-year-old Ashley.  After that, Gay began to read Ashley “Pat the Bunny, Goodnight Moon, and Where the Wild Things Are.”

I took special note of the book choices because when I used to teach children’s literature, the picture books I used for in-depth analysis were Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are.  What phenomenal stories to introduce to Ashley.  They both are centered on images of the moon and the mother hovering in the background of the house.  The moon can be synonymous with the mother figure.  In this way, it could be seen that the mother in the house with the child is the adoptive mother and the moon overlooking, but at a distance, is the child’s birth mother.

My point in mentioning this passage in Ashley’s book and how it connects with Latrell’s photos is that after hearing these books read to her, Ashley began babbling in baby talk and Gay responded by playing along.  Ashley declared that she wanted a baby bottle because her mother took hers away too soon.  This can also be “read” as Ashley losing her mother too soon.  Gay bought Ashley a bottle the very next day, and Ashley drank out of the bottle with relish.

I’m not a psychologist, and I’ve always pooh-poohed more “radical” ideas like the notion of taking somebody back to their babyhood.  But in Ashley’s story, she clearly initiated these actions herself, and it sounds like it was short-term, but helpful to her.

Some excellent reviews have been written about Three Little Words.  I won’t try to re-invent the wheel here, but I paid attention to some things that were mentioned almost in passing, but which I felt were important.

Another one of these passages was when Ashley went to her first event at the White House, an invitation she received from the Dave Thomas Foundation.  She was blushing with excitement and confesses “that it was as if my childish fantasies about accidentally being lost in foster care, while I was really meant for another, grander life, had come true.”  In literature, we see the “Cinderella” story being one of the most prevalent story types there is.  Harry Potter is a Cinderella character–an orphan raised by mean relatives until he goes off to Hogwarts and discovers that he is destined for greatness.  What a powerful fantasy to keep one going in the worst of times, to know that one deserves much more.

Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s book is a treasure to foster children and to a system that needs fixing so badly.  Every person who reads this book will feel a desire to advocate for these kids and to see the system change.  As a teen, Ashley herself sees the move Erin Brockovich and decides that she will be like Erin and stand up for what’s right.  She will help other children who are enmeshed in the foster care system.  Today she is a public speaker on this issue and a foster mother.

Gifts to the World by Emmy Farese



DWLA is thrilled to present Emmy and her prodigious talent.  Watch for her name to start appearing in the playbills for Broadway and National Tour musicals in a few years!

In 1998, Emmy Farese was born in Latvia and joined her adoptive parents Susan and Michael very soon after.  Always smiling, connecting well with others and moving with a zest for life, Emmy entered the world of performing arts at 2 ½ years old with dance lessons.  As she gradually increased her knowledge and skills in dance, she also began acting and vocal training.   Emmy, now 14,  has performed in professional, community and school theatre productions, as well as feature, independent, and student films and music videos.

She is a freshman at Canyon Crest Academy, a high school specializing in the arts in San Diego. In her spare time, Emmy enjoys hanging out with friends or playing with her tuxedo cat Chloe.  “I’m really happy in life and I’m so lucky to be where I am today. I’m really thankful for my parents and all the opportunities I’ve had.”

Emmy and her family have asked us to add a dedication to those family,friends and groups who were especially supportive in welcoming Emmy. “Special warm regards from our family to Brenda Baker, Kathlyn Brigham & family, Maryann & Frank Felice Jr. and Frank Felice III, Renee Mordente Singer and family, the Felice, Mentasti, Farese, Micek, Cebulski, Zvalaren, Kopala, Cebulski, Gettis, Micek, Families, B-Cliff, Forster-Loy, Adoption Center of Washington, D.C., CAFA Adoption support group, Laura and Anna, Las Madres San Jose, ’98, and friends/neighbors of Ocean Township, and Preston Forest in Cary, N.C.”



“Lullaby League” from “The Wizard of Oz” Sept. 2005–Emmy was 7 years old
This professional stage production from American Musical Theatre of San Jose (AMTSJ) starred James Monroe Iglehart (Broadway performer in Memphis and 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) as the Lion!

HipHop Performance

Emmy in “Taming of the Shrew”

In “Caucasian Chalk Circle”
with Dashiel Grusky and Max Grusky

Broadway Students Summit

Still from film “Little Black Girl”

All headshots by

Chris Evan Photography


The Healing Power of Looking Back

by Elaine Pinkerton

Writing The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption gave me a chance to put my adoption in perspective.

I was five years old when my birthmother had to give me up for adoption, and at the time I did not understand what was happening. In the era following WWII, people didn’t talk about family secrets. I mistakenly assumed that I’d done something wrong for my original mom to have given me up. Even though they were based on illogical thinking, feelings of shame and guilt grew. For years, I nursed anger, resentment and sadness about being adopted.

Elaine’s diaries

Then I decided to read all my old diaries. What I found within them was life-changing. As I read my first-hand accounts of the 1950s through the 1980s, I began to release the old misconceptions. The older Elaine forgave the young girl, the rebellious teenager, the unhappy wife. I saw, in hindsight, that I had done the best I could. I recognized many terrific accomplishments. Acknowledging myself, I became the heroine rather than the victim of my past life.

My adoption was no longer a burden. It had taken me from being an orphan to a secure home environment. Because of wonderful adoptive parents, it was a rescue boat. Since my early situation was never explained, I sometimes fell victim to  depression. Through re-reading my diaries, however, I was finally able to understand and forgive the past. Looking back on all that happened and putting my adoption in perspective was the final, unexpected gift of adoption.

Perhaps my “epiphany” is best explained in an excerpt from the Epilogue of The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption:

If it is possible that one can send a brain to boot camp, then that is just what reading my diaries accomplished. Every loss or failed relationship, or so my diaries revealed, echoed that first loss. The loss of my birthmother was one I knew so well and referred to for so long that it was all too easy to toss every loss, failure, slight, emotional hurt into the comfy basket woven from my original privation. I have retired the basket in favor of a daily labyrinth walk to shake out the negative thoughts. Most days it works.

What were the benefits of my diary-reading marathon?  No less than a remodel! Looking at vicious emotional cycles in my past, I stared them down. I grew in the courage needed to resist the voice that liked to say, “Oh, poor me. My mother left when I was just five.”

Turning off the “Oh, poor me” lament is not always easy. As life’s challenges continue, I know I’ll be tested repeatedly. To be alive, after all, is to face crises. The only people who do not grapple daily with frustration, complications, loss and the occasional disaster reside in the cemetery.

Elaine reading one of her diaries

For years, I’d been reading every book and article I could find about the adopted self, especially adult adoptees. They included Betty Jean Lifton’s novels and dozens of self-help books dealing with adoption and loss issues. Until I read the handwritten chronicles of my own life, however, the other adoption books meant little. After harvesting the diaries, I found those works miraculously lucid. The books hadn’t changed, but I had gotten inside my own skin, my own mind. I had a more truthful picture of who I actually was. The diaries provided data, the books gave me strength, and I came to see that my life was just part of a human river. Along with that realization came gratitude.

To put it another way, I got to know the real me, not some abstract construction based on self-concocted mythology.  The diaries provided missing data. Through weeping, crying, occasionally laughing, often being amazed at my stubborn inability to accept the obvious, I worked through the childhood paradigm. At the same time, I gained a new self-respect. So my original mother couldn’t take care of me and I’d been adopted. It was no worse than early challenges faced by hundreds of others.

Everything, it has been said, that happens to one before age six is cast in bronze and that what follows that is not important. I set about to disprove this. As I read about my life first hand, I learned that my initial beliefs about “not being one of the real children” had burdened me with what I think of as an “overcompensation obsession.” I married twice, carrying mistakes of the first union into the second. I hadn’t been an ideal parent. So?

That was then. This is now. I yearn for courage and wisdom. I have tried, through this book, to gain the strength to develop both. There’s something far less lofty that happened. Harvesting the journals yielded a rich treasure: I’m now more comfortable with my memories. We are old pals now.

Several points are salient: I made many hurtful decisions, but I had my reasons.  Though my choices may not have been very wise, I did my best. I wept for that earlier adopted self and put it to rest.

Best of all, my journey to the past strengthened a strong resolve to spend all remaining years on the planet more positively. After researching my life and studying its structure, I’m better at making decisions that serve me well. This is my intention.


Elaine Pinkerton is a long-time resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico. In addition to writing for magazines and newspapers, she is the author of several popular non-fiction and fiction books. She is a world traveler, educator focused on working with young children, labyrinth facilitator, and athlete-skier, hiker, former marathon runner. In The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption, Elaine reveals the bruises of adoption that impacted her from the tender age of five. Through excerpts from personal journals she kept for 40 years, we experience her frustrations and successes as she strives to be good enough for her beloved adoptive parents and in all areas of her later life.

Elaine can be “followed” through her blog, Twitter, and Facebook page:




A Blessing in Disguise

by Juliet

At first, it was just a twinge or two, so I ignored it. As a dancer, I was used to pain, from blistered toes to cramped muscles. But after 15 performances of The Nutcracker in December left me limping towards the wings of the stage after each dance act, and as I continued to feel random bursts of sharp pain and stinging even when I wasn’t moving, I knew then these “twinges” needed to be seriously looked at by doctors.  One exam and two MRIs later, I got the bad news: both my shins were dotted with stress fractures that would take months to heal. I was supposed to spend much of the summer at the American Dance Festival at Duke University in North Carolina, but the doctor said it would take months for me to heal. It was clear I wouldn’t be able to go.

So what now? I couldn’t just sit around all summer moping, though I wanted to at first, believe me!  I knew that, as a dancer, it was extremely important to keep moving. That’s why, since middle school, I have spent every summer at dance intensives. I’ve never had what you might think of as a “normal” summer camp experience, where I would ride in a canoe, swim in a lake and sing around a campfire. So when I got the bad news, my mom jumped at the opportunity to expose me to a real American kid camp experience. But I didn’t like the sound of any of them, until a friend told her about Holt International Adoptee Camps. The idea intrigued me.

At Holt, kids who joined their mostly white families from other countries such as China, Korea and Russia (like me: I was born in China) come together for a week in the summer to share their experiences and just have fun in a country setting.  I asked my mom to look into it and we found out that I was too old to be an actual camper, so I would have to be a Counselor- In-Training (CIT).  Mom made the point that it would be a good experience because I was considering majoring in psychology in college with the idea of someday becoming a therapist or counselor, so working as a CIT would be a good start to see if that was the right direction for me.

All I can say is, thank goodness I listened to my mom; they say that “mothers know best!” and I sometimes don’t like to admit it, but my mom usually ends up being right. (Don’t tell her I admitted that!) So I signed up.

So the big day came. My family and I drove up a bumpy road in Pennsylvania and were greeted by enthusiastic group of counselors jumping up and down and welcoming each car that drove by.  The first thing that struck me is that everyone was Asian! It was overwhelming at first, because I have never before been surrounded by so many people at once who looked like me. I have always been one of a handful of Asian kids at any school I have gone to. But the shock soon wore off , and I began meeting everyone. One of the most amazing things about this camp is it is actually easier to make friends because we can relate to each other on a deeper level because we have shared many of the same experiences. We talk about being adopted into a family that is a different race from us, for sure, but we talk about regular stuff, too!

Though a typical day consists of tons of regular camp-type activities (the kind I missed all those summers in the dance studio!), we also had sessions where we talked about issues that are special to people like us. I loved the time I got to spend with “my” kids, listening to stories about their lives, expanding on their own adoption stories, sympathizing with them about the hurtful things people can say (whether they mean to or not) and just being there to provide support. It quickly feels like you are one big family.

Hopefully I have helped kids with their problems by not only sharing my story, but also being able to relate to them and offering new ways I’ve dealt with people when they ask certain questions. I have learned so much from the kids, too.

Even though the adoption sessions were aimed towards the campers, I benefited from them as well.  Since a very young age, I have always struggled with trusting people, but since I started coming to Holt, that’s eased up somewhat. I think that is because Holt gave me a place where people truly understood, at a very deep level, my personal story. I noticed that even my friendships with non-adopted people have gotten stronger since I have been going to Holt.

Holt changed my life – and me — forever. I have attended for the last two years, and I feel like a little kid waiting for Christmas as I wait for August to get here!

So even though injuries are bad news for us dancers, this one did me a real favor, because they landed me at Holt. At camp, I not only discovered people I can truly connect with, but also how much I love working with people. I am now seriously considering majoring in clinical psychology in college. Those fractured shins were a blessing in disguise.

Juliet and newfound friend Grace at Holt Camp

Guest blogger Juliet Meiying Ercolano was born in The People’s Republic of China and joined her “forever family” in the United States when she was six months old.  She is now a high school senior and getting excited to begin a new phase of her life next year at college.  This is her second piece for Don’t We Look Alike?; her first piece, “Why I Forgive,” can be found here.

Teen Adoptees are “Somewhere Between”

by Marisha







What an experience I had seeing the award-winning documentary Somewhere Between, about the lives of four American teen adoptees who were born in China!  Although I was adopted as a baby from Korea, nothing I’ve seen or heard about adoption has ever opened me up in such a vulnerable way.  I can’t put myself at a distance and be as objective about the film as I would like; however, this review is my best attempt to do so.

I saw the film, which was directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton, at the Nuart Theatre in West LA last week.  It has moved on to San Francisco and will air in theatres across the country.

The dictionary defines the word “adopt” as “taking into one’s family through legal means and raising as one’s own child.” In the wrong mindset, adoption can seem negative, foreign, not appealing. To raise a child not of one’s own blood. To invite a mysterious, difficult journey, that is both emotionally and physically grueling. But for others, adoption is nothing short of beautiful. A palette of amazing unknowns, the trust in destiny that brings a child in need to a family who can provide. Hearts ever loving, ever forgiving, willing to love a child and disregard all other standards of what makes a family. To understand what goes through the minds of (some) adoptees is like a Rubik’s Cube. The answers are hard to find, but it is possible to gain knowledge and solve the puzzle. This film showed just that and more.

I didn’t know what to expect of the film. To be quite honest, I felt it would only scratch the surface of adoption and focus on the glitz and glamour of the emotional roller coasters. Instead, what I found was a very emotional story–and very deep raw discoveries, not only for the girls, but for myself .

The film followed the lives of four girls who were all adopted from different provinces of China. They all shared different stories, different family lives. They had different interests, different religious backgrounds. But they did share one commonality– their adoption.

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Screening Map

In case you live too far from screening cities, these are the stories of the girls.

We first see Fang Lee, a fifteen year old girl with a maturity beyond her years. She lives in Berkeley CA with her sister, who is also adopted, and two very loving parents, Hanni and Alan. Fang was adopted as a toddler  and spoke fluent Chinese by the time she was adopted in 1998. Her parents embraced that skill and kept the Chinese language alive during her childhood.  She speaks both Chinese and English equally, although her father doesn’t speak any Chinese. Fang travels with her family once a year to China, to keep the memory of her birth city alive.

She speaks of her memories of her birth parents. Her birth dad chopped firewood and her birth mother grew vegetables.  They lived in a shack with only one bed. She remembers her birth mother pierced her ears. Then she tells the heartbreaking story of how she was abandoned. Her mother told her she was going to visit her grandparents and that her stepbrother would take care of her until she returned. Her stepbrother took her into the village and brought her to a little stoop. He sat her down and told her he was going to get some stuff and to not move until he came back for her. She watched him walk away–and he never came back.

Fang is asked if she is mad at her birth parents. She strongly responds no because she believes in fate, in destiny. That the decisions of her birth parents only brought her one step closer to the life she was given. And that the decisions of her adopted parents gave her the life she now has. This is how I feel about my own life.

Next we travel to Newport, Massachusetts, and meet Jenna Cook, also fifteen, who was adopted from China in 1992. She has a sister, Sara, also adopted, with their two moms Peggy and Carol. Jenna was the most artistic of the four girls, something I have in common with her.  She has 11 years of figure skating under her belt, as well as two national competitions. She plays guitar and at one point in the film sings the song “Country Roads” acoustically. She is in crew at school at the Phillips Exeter Academy and holds the leadership position of coxswain. Jenna is a leader, pushing the envelope.  She stays enthusiastic and yet calm. Holding that position has taught her strength and power and the importance of unity and teamwork. She talks a lot about being aware that she is living in a white world and refers herself as a “banana,” meaning “white on the inside, yellow on the outside.” I loved this, because I too make that same joke with “Twinkie” haha.

Her boyfriend is from South Korea.  She says something which struck a chord in me about the comfort she has with her boyfriend’s mother. She feels that being around someone with the same “Asian” exterior is a similarity which makes her feel as if she belongs.  It creates a sense of familiarity.

The third girl, Ann Boccuti, fourteen, lives in Pennsylvania and  is a member of color guard and plays the piano. Cathy and Bob are her parents, and she has an older brother who is biologically related to her parents.  Her issues of being adopted have become more apparent as she gets older.  She says that although her hobbies are known as “reject” hobbies, she doesn’t care. Ann was adopted from an orphanage in China and talks about how her adopted parents thought that she was going to be a “special needs” child because she had cross-shaped legs and crossed eyes. But her father had faith and she grew up fine. She expresses disinterest in finding her birth parents, but wants to visit the Chinese orphanage that she was adopted from one day.

Her story intersects with her friend Haley Butler, thirteen, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She was adopted at six months old on February 22, 1995, from China. She has a younger sister who is also adopted and an older sister, Heidi, who is Caucasian and was crowned Miss Tennessee. Haley loves pageants and followed her sister’s footsteps into the pageant world. Religion is a huge part of the Butler family and Haley claims that even if she lived in China, she would find her way to Christianity.

Her mother Jeannie helps kids with the Annabelle’s Wish Orphanage and makes it her goal to help as many orphaned kids as she can. The family has been to China 22 times and has helped over 2000 children. It was quite amazing to watch.

Haley’s story was the most incredible to watch. She had this deep dream to find her birth parents and decided to take action. So she creates a poster with all the information she has on her adoption and birth parents and goes to China to the province she was from, where she posts the poster in the village. Miraculously, a man comes forward claiming to be her birth father and hours later she meets him and two of her three birth siblings. This part of the film was particularly emotional. They proceed to do a DNA test and three months later they discover that he is her birth father. So Haley and her family plan a trip to China to meet her birth mother, her other brother, and to find the answers to what led her to the adoption.

She is really nervous/excited to meet her birth mom because her birth mom chose not to come to the first meeting. This meeting is set up in a hotel room in China with lots of picture books depicting Haley’s American upbringing. The whole family meets and Jane, the translator, helps the two families converse. Haley’s birth mother is emotional and won’t let go of her when she first meets Haley. The family learns that Haley’s birth dad did not want to give Haley up, but her mother could not provide for all four of her children. When he went to work one day, she wrapped Haley in a basket and gave her to a family friend without her birth dad knowing. The parents had thought the family friends were going to raise her, but instead they had taken Haley to an orphanage instead. (The Chinese culture values boys over girls.  The One Child Policy has had a tremendous effect on availability of girls for adoption).

The two families then venture to Haley’s birth hometown, where they have a beautiful traditional Chinese feast. Haley’s family promises to visit every year.

I was mesmerized by this story, especially how she finds her birth parents so quickly in such a big country. It is such an overwhelming situation, and I was so proud of Haley for how she handled it. Maybe it helps that she is still so young. Or maybe she doesn’t understand yet the magnitude of what has occurred?  Her story brought me to tears, because I too hope that when I start searching in Korea, it will come that easily.  However, the odds are against that for most of us international adoptees.  My only reservation about the film is that some teens might watch this movie and get unrealistic expectations about finding their birth parents.

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These four girls are extraordinary, and their stories plucked a lot of emotional strings in my own life. Three of the girls are now college students and Haley must be close to eighteen.  I wish them all well on this new phase of their lives.

There were many special and some very difficult moments in this film.  The biggest moment was when Jenna goes to Spain to speak at a convention for the parents of adoptees. The word “abandon” is brought up.  They want Jenna to elaborate on her feelings toward the word. She is brought to tears, saying the word is “negative” and that she was placed into a better life because of it.

I really connected with her when she spoke of how adoption has negatively affected her. She speaks of “perfectionist tendencies, fear of failure, and having to compensate for not feeling good enough.” She is happy about her better life, but can’t help those moments and small thoughts of abandonment. It struck me so hard because I, too, have felt all those feelings throughout my life. The “A Word” has always been an emotional one for me, and I am so glad this film touched on it. It is important for people to know.  The discussion of issues in “Somewhere Between” can even help the non-adoptee understand the adoptee in his or her life.

Funny moments throughout the film were the reactions they got from strangers and friends about their adoptions. One of my favorites was when Haley and her little sister and mom were at a salon. A lady next to them said to her sister, “Congratulations on coming to America. Aren’t you so lucky you were able to come here?” My first reaction was wanting to punch the woman, but that of course is the ignorance we have talked about previously on this blog. The girls were asked: “Aren’t you good at math? Do you speak English? Where is your real family?” I thought the girls handled these questions the way I would–with comedy and poise. They understand that they have nothing to apologize for and their maturity and understanding shows by taking these comments with a grain of salt.

Fang inspired me with a story of one trip to a Chinese orphanage where she saw this little girl with cerebral palsy wearing a pink dress. She describes her as ‘looking like a statue but had life in her eyes.” When she returned to the United States, she raised $5000 for her which paid for intensive physical therapy. Fang visited her every year and eventually found her a home with a wonderful family in America who had another adoptee with cerebral palsy. It was an emotional adoption and showed the true beauty of how amazing an adoption is and how incredible Fang is for helping this beautiful little girl in need find a home. She has truly inspired me to want to go back to Korea myself one day and help other children.

The last story I want to share disturbed me so much that it will stay with me forever. Haley travels to Amsterdam, Holland, and meets with an older South Korean adoptee named Hilbrand Westra.  He is one of the people trying to get the rights for adoptees to be able to retrieve their adoption and birth files. Haley asks why this hasn’t been able to happen yet, and he gives a very chilling response. He explains that in Korea, especially, the files for the adoptees were a lot of times falsified, fraudulent, and hidden because a lot of children were not, in fact, orphans. They were children with able families who wrote up fake documents to make agencies believe that they were “orphans.” I can’t tell you how emotional I got in the theatre. I never believed I was an orphan because my paperwork shows that my birth mother was unmarried and unable to raise me, but the idea that the story I have been told may be false, makes me believe that my hopes of finding my birth family is farther and farther from being possible.

All in all, this was an INCREDIBLE movie to see. It really delved into the tough questions and was raw and real. Adoptees share a commonality, a similar journey from a murky past to a different future. We all share self-doubt towards our adoption and the word “abandon” hits an emotional chord for all of us. Adoptees know their stories are unique and that there is no “normal” for them. But most of us  embrace that and understand that adoption has led us to a beautiful life with beautiful families. The film talks about destiny, and that is really what it is. Proof that God did not overlook us, but took the time to give our lives meaning. We feel special, blessed. I think our identities will always be questioned at certain times, and we will feel stuck between the known and the unknown. But through that comes great strength. I leave you with this quote from Fang’s art teacher: “The past reflects from the present, but the present takes us from the past.” Thank you for reading and please see the film if you get the chance! x

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My Social Experiment

by Marisha

We all have insecurities. My own have weighed heavily on me in the areas of race, body type, looks, talent, the whole package.  The biggest question has been “am I good enough?”  Even the most confident, the most outwardly outgoing people fall subject to this kind of poison. It runs through our veins without warning and the simplest trigger can turn our minds to self-destruction.

As I have grown older, I have learned how to deal with and respond to the insecurity poison that I have been so addicted to. I’ve transformed my old response into a healthy perception of myself, and this has affected how I deal with my personal and interpersonal relationships. It hasn’t been easy, a statement which anyone who has gone through this transformation can agree with.

My first big insecurity was wondering if guys would be attracted to me. I hadn’t seen many interracial relationships at my school, and the town I grew up in was very conservative. I have always been attracted to personality, so ethnicity never seemed to hold much weight for me. I suppose it was because of my upbringing and growing up in an interracial family.

I remember having a lot of guy friends who were said to have “crushes” on me, but I never felt like they were attracted to me. I believed I had a personality that they liked and that that was my money shot. I guess I took pride in it. Actually I STILL have pride in it. Most of my relationships or flings with guys have stemmed from friendship, which I appreciate, but I never had the guts to start things off with a guy romantically.

That said, I unconsciously started a social experiment that lasted for years. Every non-Asian guy (and let’s face it, I haven’t grown up around very many Asian guys) I encountered, friend or more, at some point always said the same thing to me. It was either:

1) Asian girls are either really hott or really not. There’s no in between with you guys.


2) You know, Marisha, you are the first Asian girl I have been attracted to. I don’t know why.

Now, they seem like silly statements, but when you have heard them your whole life you wonder if they are compliments or something twisted.

The social experiment progressed when I started asking almost every guy I encountered the first question about no in-betweeners in the looks department. And like clockwork, their answers were the same. Funny because they thought that Caucasian girls could fall in the middle category. But why not Asian girls???

As far as the second comment, I have always been somewhat flattered because my money shot (personality) probably led to that attraction in the first place. Knowing that has given me the confidence to always be myself as it seems to show that, for most people, it’s not really about race. That it’s about your energy and the inner beauty. But, then, why mention race? Can’t you just be attracted to me, race aside?

This post might seem random, but I wrote it to see what you guys think. Do you think their comments are ignorant? Unknowingly racist? Or do you think they are compliments?

More to come . . . .

Big Brother, Little Sister

by Marisha

I have written here about the ignorance and racism I’ve encountered, but when I look back at my 24 years of life as an adopted Korean-American, I cannot help but feel I have been given the best life possible. From my upbringing, I have learned to recognize and value that I am unique. I was blessed to find a passion for performing, have a healthy and able family, and continue to learn valuable lessons from the two smartest people I know — my parents. I never wanted to be ordinary. I still don’t — even on the days I think that, as a performer, being a 5’8 blonde girl with fake boobs would make my life easier. I’m proud that my brother and I share the same desire to be original and to be leaders.

I remember looking up to my brother before high school for these traits. Everyone seemed to love him. He was an example of that overused saying, “guys want to be him, and girls want to be with him.” He was a good athlete, super smart, and had so much charm—the “it” factor, which leads to social and personal success. Marc was the funniest boy at school. Frankly, he seemed amazing to me. And he was my brother.

“C’mon. Don’t be scared.”

We went to a private K-8 school, where all the students knew one other. In kindergarten and first grade, I tagged after Marc and his best friend, and Marc let me. He treated me like a friend, not just a little (annoying) sister. When Marc was in 8th grade, he was voted student council president. When I entered 8th grade, I wanted to follow him into that role—and I did.

Upon entering high school, I felt overwhelmed. It was my first public school experience, and I was the newbie. I’d heard stories and seen movies about the stereotyping and cliques in high school: popular kids, jocks, art kids, stoners, etc. What you should be and what you shouldn’t be. What was cool and what wasn’t. Forcing myself into a mold like that didn’t agree with me. I thought, “Why should I confine myself to one aspect of life and only one type of friends? Why can’t I just be a social butterfly and be friends with everyone?”

That was my brother. Social Butterfly. He was a senior when I started freshman year, and people treated him as if he was a celebrity. He had friends from every “group” and dramatically increased the energy wherever he walked. I remember all my nerves went away when I got the title of “Marc’s little sister.” Silly, right?! But, I loved every second of it because I was accepted and people wanted to know who I was. From then on, it opened a door which has led me to the mind-set I have now.

I’m not writing this post because I loved being in my brother’s shadow or relished being handed “acceptance.” But being Marc’s little sister gave me motivation and confidence to embrace that I was different, learn from my brother’s confidence and charm, and find my own. I could walk in a room and be proud to be known as “Marisha Castle.”

I feel that my unique upbringing as an adoptee in a transracial family gave me the tools and understanding to be that social butterfly and be friends with people from all walks of life without judgment. The kids didn’t care that I was Asian, or adopted. They didn’t assume I should excel at math or science. They treated my brother and me as if there were no mirrors. High school was a special experience for which I am grateful. I am also grateful to my brother for paving the “Castle” way.

Not all adoptees are going to have an experience as I did, but for me, adoption has been a rewarding experience. I wouldn’t trade my life for anything. Adoptees are a minority in this world, and we bring a different outlook to society. We add color and dimension to the culture. WE ARE ORIGINAL.

Here we are today

He’s Just Not That into You . . . or Your Race

by Marisha

I attended a private Carden curriculum school from kindergarten through eighth grade. It was a cozy school, very small, with nothing but a small green field track and some fixed-up gray trailers we used for classes. I loved every minute of it.

School Grounds

The Fixed-Up Buildings and Playground

There was this boy who I will call “Dan,” in the interest of discretion. I grew up with him, we had play dates at each other’s houses, even played “house” where we would pretend to be husband and wife in his parents’ bedroom and imagine we lived in a beautiful house and made lots of money. He was a really nice kid, so cute, and he seemed to like me! We got along and I made all the girls jealous. We used to write notes back and forth:  “Do you like me? Circle yes or no.” I always made a box for “maybe.” I was a heartbreaker back then. Clearly, we were meant to be.

As we got to middle school, we had moved on from our crushes on one another and were great friends. By then, I had found two other guys I was sure I was going to marry. I guess I was a romantic even back then.

Middle school was a great time for me. I was extremely accepted, with lots of friends.  There were plenty of boys who thought I was the bee’s knees ;). I was never discriminated against, and I never felt that “different” feeling that I seem to feel so often now.

Middle School Performing Arts

The School Play

The situation happened after school one day in 8th grade. We were waiting for our parents to pick us up.  To kill time I asked Dan how he and his “girlfriend” Lauren were doing. He gave a short, nondescript answer, so I joked, “Well, she better not be better than when I was your girlfriend.” I thought I was funny, even though secretly, I wanted confirmation from him.

But no confirmation followed. Instead, he responded, “Well, I like her more because she’s blonde.”

… ummm what??? How did that have anything to do with liking someone?? Was that a dig at my ethnicity or a dig at my character? I was so confused I didn’t really know how to respond, so I just stayed silent. And like most boys, he continued….

“I mean, come on, Marisha. I’m only into blondes and brunettes. That’s just who I see myself with in my future.”

I remained silent.

“Hey, I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings. I still think you are really cool.”

I can’t repeat what I was thinking.  The only thing I could mutter was “Well, I’m brunette.”

He should have just shut his mouth, but he put the icing on the cake with, “Well, yeah, but you’re not white.”

I walked away. We ended up going to the same high school, but I never really spoke to him again.

Looking back, I realize he was young.  The best part is he probably doesn’t remember even saying that. But to say it didn’t initiate my struggle with looking different from the “blondes and brunettes” would be a lie. It was my first experience with “discrimination,” not to mention the hurt caused because it was from a good friend of mine. That SAME friend who I used to play “house” with. What irony. Ignorance is the only thing I can pinpoint. I’ll never forget that experience, but it prepared me for a lot of experiences that were coming in my future.

I feel that I have a little stigma now.  I always assume that guys are looking at my friends and not me. But I know I’m being insecure in those moments. Still, I am confident and NOT afraid to share the skeletons in my closet. MORE TO COME ….

Teen Adoptees Showcased in New Documentary

Screenings of this new film about adoptees from China begin August 24 in New York.  The west coast premiere is September 14 in Los Angeles.  Check out their screening schedule for other cities across the country.  The director describes the film this way:

“The primary themes of SOMEWHERE BETWEEN are identity formation, family, adoption, and race. The film focuses on the intersection of all of these themes through the coming-of-age stories of four girls. As they discover who they are, so do we. Through their specific stories, we as viewers come to understand more fully the meaning of family and the ever prevalent cultural disconnect between stereotyping and race—whether we are adoptive families or not.”

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