As promised here is my post on growing up…with brown skin and being Thai.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, my skin is brown while everyone else in the MacWilliam family has white skin. I never remember it being an issue growing up. It was not until I moved to British Columbia, Canada that I noticed how many people took an interest in my nationality. Working as a salesclerk kept me in constant contact with the public. People would stare at my face then very bluntly ask me if I was Filipina. Upon hearing the answer they would have one of two reactions: defensively reply with “Oh you look Filipina” and drop the subject. Or they would keep listing off different countries and imploring me to reveal the truth. Many would accuse me about lying. Insist that I was Filipina. When this first began happening in my late teens I thought it was weird. It had never happened to me as a child and now it was becoming a regular thing. Some people would go as far as to ask how long I had lived in Canada and how I liked living here?
The more I got bombarded with these questions the more frustrated and angry I became. Isn’t Canada the country made up of a cultural mosaic? With the population of over 34million, why would so many people be curious about me? I know I could take these peoples’ interest as humbling and complimentary but I DON’T. I find them invasive and act very hostile when put in the confrontational situations. Here’s why…well I will try to make my explanation as straightforward and easy to understand as possible; but I myself am still trying to understand my strong reactions.
When I answer to people that I am Thai I feel like I am defending myself. My identity. Why does it matter to them? They so strongly believe they know who I am but they don’t. How can they know who I am when I barely know myself? No one ever asks me if I am Thai. Filipina is the most commonly asked but I have been asked a dozens of others too. While reading Sarah Armstrong and Petrina Slaytors book, The Colour of Differences Journey in Transracial Adoptions I was awed by how much of the material I relate to. I wish that I had read it years ago like this part,
“Confusing situation of “not being what they seem” has resulted in many awkward and uncomfortable situations and has also resulted in being forced to disclose their adoptive status to many strangers.”
Whenever I tell inquiring minds that I am Thai, it is never enough information for them. Naturally people want to always be right, they need concrete evidence to disprove their theory. I used to try to explain as briefly as possible that I am in fact Thai but was adopted AND HAVE LIVED IN CANADA almost my whole life. Feeling defensive and awkward is not something I wish to be doing with strangers. Why does it matter? Them asking me is putting me on the spot!
I recently finished reading A.M Homes memoir about being adopted and how she reunited with her birth parents as an adult. The Mistress’s Daughter had candid bits I thoroughly enjoyed, “I used to believe that every question deserved an answer, I used to feel obligated to answer everything as fully and honestly as
possible. I don’t anymore.”
That’s also how I feel now about answering peoples’ questions. I KNOW when someone wants to ask me a question. I can see when people are sizing me up and trying to find the right moment to begin being intrusive. Sometimes I simply reply with, “No” and divulge no other details and sometimes I feed them a few details to digest. More often then not we begin a conversation about how they were wrong – but what an interesting story I do have. I have had people want to sit beside me on public transit to talk to me about where I live and how long I have lived in Canada. I remember a time when I was shopping at downtown Victoria with Bizzle and a lady followed me around because she wanted to know if I was Filippina. I answered no but she kept prying for more information. She literally felt the need to tail us until she realized the answer was going to stay a no. In Nanaimo, people would come to my work place and tell me the names of people they thought were my parents or siblings. I had told them my parents were Canadian but they still did not believe me! They were insistent that I was Filippina Just the other day at the grocery store I felt blocked in an aisle when an elderly man asked if I was Maori. When I told him I was Thai-Canadian he would not let me pass until I had revealed a more sufficient amount of information.
I am beginning to realize the more I read about the topic of adoption and experience “life” the better I am understand these feelings of hostility. The reason I get so annoyed with people invading my personal bubble is because I feel inadequate with my answer. YES I know I am Thai but I don’t know…how Thai. Was my Mom and Dad Thai? Am I only a quarter, half, full Thai? Yes I was born in Thailand but I have more of a cultural understanding of what it is to be Canadian than that of my home country. My lack of cultural awareness has definitely festered away at me over time. NONE of my friends or brothers ever get asked where they are from! Asking me if I am: Filipina, Malaysia, Maori, Indonesian, Chinese, Indian makes me feel inadequate. I just don’t like it and I don’t know if I ever will.
When my friends or coworkers are around they try to buffer the situation because they know how much it annoys me. Some still find it funny, others are in awe of it, but I so appreciate them helping to diffuse or end the conversation. Even thought I can’t deter people from asking but I still have the power in deciding how much I share with people about myself. If the questions continue to persist I hope to find some inner peace and not feel so on edge about them.
I don’t really know if I explained myself very well here but I am happy I got to explain a little bit more about myself. Thanks for reading and I hope I did not bore you to sleep.
During one of my English classes in College, my teacher assigned us all narrative essays. It would be used as a writing sample and help her to access our growth by the end of the term. I thought I would share portions of my paper with you. This is not the completed original version as I deleted parts of it and tried to fluff out a few details.
Brown Eyed Blue Eyed
Throughout my twenty four years of life I have never needed to question the fact that I was adopted. Not once have I felt the need to ask my parents if I were blood related. The simple fact is that I have brown skin and prominent brown eyes and my two older brothers have white skin and blue/green eyes. Never have I felt compelled to question whether the woman I called, “Mom”, was actually biologically related to me. Our difference in blood never seemed to affect my bond with my two older brothers. In fact, our relationship continues to remain solid as the years go on.
My parents had two biological sons together before deciding to adopt a daughter. My eldest brother was born in 1984, followed seventeen months later by the birth of my other brother. I have never met my birth parents and know nothing about them. I have always called the adults that adopted me, “Dad and Mom”. They are the only parents and I know and the only people I consider deserving of the title of “my parents”. They discovered me at the Phayatai Orphanage also known as Babies home. The orphanage was located in Thailand’s metro region of Bangkok. Since the late 1990’s the orphanage merged with another orphanage named Pakkret. When the two orphanages merged together it took on the name of Phayatai Orphanage and became the largest one in Thailand. The lengthy adoption process for me to become a MacWilliam began in the middle of 1987.
My eldest brother is two years older than me, and the other is five months older. We grew up attending the same schools together. School is where I first started to realize I was “different” from my brothers. When I was not with them I always just assumed that people knew we were a family. My peers started to make assumptions about my family. It was never a second thought to me that the two boys I had grown up practically my whole life with were my brothers. Classmates who did not know the inner workings of my family would immediately jump to the conclusion that my whole family was Thai. Most would become beyond shocked when I would state that my brothers were both over six feet tall and had blue/green eyes. They would take my statement as a silly joke or some mistake I had just uttered. The best reactions would come from showing a family picture to some classmates in grade 12. I could read their expressions; the utter shock and confusion that would rush over their faces. Most were politically correct in their responses, “Oh that’s nice. Or that’s a nice looking family.” Truthfully the expressions I enjoyed best were the ones that were completely uncensored. Once I showed a picture of my family to my friend and she immediately blurted out, “they are white”! Just complete shock that the whole time we had been friends she had just assumed my family was Thai like me. A friend who was with us at the time was embarrassed by the outburst which made me laugh that much harder. The uncensored reaction was more welcomed then the uncomfortable feelings people often tried to hide upon their discoveries. (A note to be made is that I was living in a boarding school at the time so no one knew much about my family or ever met any members).Once when my family was on a trip together and my brothers and I were in our teens, a couple in their early sixties commented to my parents that, “My your two boys and their friend sure play nicely together”. My parents were quick to correct the nice couple by informing them that those three kids were siblings and they have always grown up enjoying each other’s company. To this day I still somewhat enjoy seeing people’s reactions to discovering my brothers have a different skin colour than me. When I am telling people stories about my family I never feel the need to mention the difference in their colour skin to mine. It does not matter to me. It is just an assumption that people cannot help to make and I’m accepting of that.
I do not care in the least that I was adopted into a Caucasian family instead of an Asian one. The colour of my skin has not negatively affected my bonds with my brothers or parents. People will see me and continue to assume I have brown siblings and parents and I will be more than happy to correct them proudly when the timing is right.
–>Reading this paper back makes me wish I had the energy to write an autobiography! Sometimes the mood hits where I LOVE WRITING!
The topic of my skin colour in comparison to my family’s does NOT affect my bond with my family. What does BOTHER me is how people always come up to me asking me where I am from BECAUSE of the colour of my skin. I will end this post now but promise to make one on the subject of having brown skin….I know my friends will laugh when they read it as they are constantly witnessing or hearing of my “Filipina stories”.
I have been on a roll with this blogging! I will warn you that my updates will slow down soon. Right now I am just completing and tweaking all these notes I have on my computer. Soon I will have to start my posts from scratch again.
As always, thanks for reading!
Buddha Blessings to everyone,
xox Amanda Sumalee
**Happy Mother’s Day to my Mom and all the mothers reading this blog 🙂