To Joie Meyer, “China” had never been more than a word scrawled on her legal documents.
Adopted from the world’s most populous country at just nine months old, Meyer has resided in America for as long as she can remember. It was not until this past summer, when she took a heritage tour funded by the Chinese government, that the word started to mean something.
“Before my trip I just saw China as a name, and I didn’t really think much of it because I’ve been living in America all my life,” Meyer said. “After, there was a sense of pride in me, seeing China’s rich cultural history and everything that it has to offer.”
Three days after she was born, Meyer’s birth parents wrapped her in a blanket and placed her in front of the city police station with nothing but a note disclosing her birthday. With poverty ravaging the town where Meyer was born and the One Child Policy firmly in place, forfeiting care of a child was not uncommon. After she was found, Meyer was placed in an orphanage, where she would remain until her adoption nine months later.
“I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about the One Child Policy, like mothers burying their babies alive,” Meyer said. “It made me really grateful that my parents did decide to give me up for adoption for a better life, and that my mom adopted me.”
Growing up in America, Chinese culture was never a large part of Meyer’s life. Though Meyer took up Chinese brush painting as a hobby in sixth grade, her expression of her Chinese ancestry remained limited to her delicate paintings of flowers and landscapes. This would prove to be an obstacle when attempting to connect with older generations, who Meyer says have historically been apprehensive toward the adoption and assimilation of Chinese children into western culture.
“Sometimes older Chinese people will come up to me and start talking to me in Chinese, and I have to tell them that I don’t speak the language,” Meyer said. “In China, people spoke to me in Chinese and I got some dirty looks when I said ‘Sorry, I don’t understand’ in English.”
Meyer’s family had been aware of the tour opportunity for some time, but they chose to wait until Joie and her two younger sisters (also adopted from China) were old enough to value the experience. When the time finally came, the girls packed up their suitcases and set out to rediscover their country of origin.
After an exhausting 20-hour plane ride, Meyer and her family spent twelve days on a fast-paced tour around the country, sightseeing and traveling between provinces. Though she hadn’t known what to expect, Meyer was quickly taken with the majestic landmarks and traditions of her country of birth.
Among the postcard perfect items on the agenda were Jiu-jitsu lessons, panda encounters and treks along the Great Wall of China. The tour also included glimpses into the daily lives of people living in China, featuring tea traditions and highly competitive games of chinese poker that diverged from popular tourist attractions.
The most remarkable part of the visit for Meyer, however, was meeting people whose circumstances mirrored hers. Though she never felt out of place growing up in Cooper City, she did feel different – some of her friends were all-American with only distant ties to other countries, while her Chinese American friends often practiced customs and attended Chinese school. Meyer found herself somewhere in the middle.
“It was cool to see that there were other people who were in the same situation as me,” Meyer said. “They were also adopted from China, and a lot of them also had single mothers.”
Though the tour was a pleasant one, a major culture shock came for Meyer when she attempted to connect with friends back home by checking her Gmail and quickly discovered that it was blocked. Other Google applications such as Google Docs and Google Drive, as well as social media platforms like Instagram, were also inaccessible due to government censorship.
“I guess I just never thought that here in America there was any sort of limit to getting information and other peoples’ opinions,” Meyer said. “There are a lot of things that the citizens here can’t do or have that I hadn’t thought about before in America.”
Though the tour eventually came to an end, the differences it made to Meyer’s identity and outlook are irrevocable. Her ultimate takeaway? No country is perfect, and in spite of their flaws and rocky pasts, Meyer is grateful to have finally found harmony between her Chinese and American affiliations.
“I definitely am not ashamed to say that I’m an adopted Chinese American,” Meyer said. “I’m proud that I get to be both.”
Photo courtesy of Joie Meyer