Teen Adoptees are “Somewhere Between”

by Marisha

 

INTRODUCTION TO “SOMEWHERE BETWEEN”

SUMMARY: THE GIRLS’ STORIES

SPECIAL AND DIFFICULT MOMENTS

FILM TRAILER

INTRODUCTION TO “SOMEWHERE BETWEEN”

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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SUMMARY: THE GIRLS’ STORIES

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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SOME SPECIAL AND DIFFICULT MOMENTS

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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FILM TRAILER

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Comments

  1. This video looks really good! Will it be in the theaters?

  2. That movie really sounds like it’s one to watch:)
    I also recognize some of the awkward comment you get from strangers (probably the same whether you’re Chinese or Korean). In Denmark, there is not many immigrants from Korea (or China for that sake), so most people will assume that you’re adopted, if you look Korean.
    Though, when I was 15, one of the Danish princes married a woman from Hong Kong (who didn’t speak much Danish to start with), and suddenly strangers started to compliment me for how well I spoke Danish:)

    • Mitzie, I see that Marisha answered you down below. Just wanted to make sure you saw her response. Thanks for reading and best wishes to you and Poul. You made such a beautiful bride!

  3. Very interesting movie that I hope to see. I am a forty-something Korean adoptee. I, too, write a blog. This is a wonderful perspective with both the mother and daughter. Keep it up.

    http://mothermade.blogspot.com

    • That’s amazing! I can’t wait to read your posts as well! You probably have so much insight as life as an adult adoptee! Thank you for reading the post and when I’m by my computer, I am definitely going to read yours!!! 🙂 take care!

  4. Wilma J. Kahn says:

    Marisha — thanks for sharing this review. “Somewhere Between” sounds like a really good movie, one I hope to see in the not too far distant future.

  5. Wow, I didn’t know all that! I imagine that to be True in the other countries! Thanks for sharing that! I hope you get to see the film! 🙂 x

  6. Barbara Crawley says:

    Thanks for providing the synopsis of this documentary …I hope I get to see this. It sounds facscinating.

  7. What an extensive exploration of the ideas contained in this film. Well done. This made me think of international adoptees in my extended family who I have not seen in years… and how time can come between families… but I stray from the immediacy you bring of yourself to connecting with the ideas the film raises. Thank you for your brave exploration.

    Renee – a writer friend of Luanne’s

    • Thanks Renee! It was such a good experience for me to delve into the meat of adoption. I am really grateful for the film and this blog! 🙂 I love sharing stories and insight! X

  8. This post was fascinating and I can’t wait to see the documentary. My husband and I have considered adopting for years. We have been foster parents and had mixed results from the experience that left us wondering if adopting or fostering children was really the right thing to do. It seems silly even to write such a thought down, but that was our experience. There are a lot of dirty secrets and injustices that are committed against children through foster care and adoptions (both domestic and international) and it takes a lot of fortitude as a parent to forge ahead and have faith in the system anyway. Needless to say, it’s fascinating to read your insights and thoughts, as well as the emotional response you have to your own adoption. I think it takes a lot of courage to put your experience down in writing…

    • Wow that is so amazing you have fostered kids! I respect that so much! It’s truly amazing to have people like you. It’s a little scary to be so vulnerable but I appreciate the support so much! X

  9. Reblogged this on Don't We Look Alike? and commented:

    Here is Marisha’s review of the film “Somewhere Between.” For upcoming screening dates visit http://www.somewherebetweenmovie.com/screenings.

  10. I love how you wrote this. The flow of words made the whole experience of adoption as real as it can get. =>

  11. Thanks for your response to the film. I can’t wait to see it. We will have a showing in Phoenix hopefully next month!

    • Ah I am so excited for you to see it! It’s a really touching film and the girls bring so much life into adoption even at a young age! 🙂 x

  12. Marisha, I’m currently in process of bringing it to Bozeman for a showing. I’ve been contemplating if we should do any kind of Q&A or discussion session afterwards. Since seeing it, what are your thoughts on that as an extension to discussing adoption in our community?

    • Hi Tara,
      I actually never thought about a Q & A for after seeing the film. For me personally, I was very emotional after seeing the film so I needed time to myself to reflect and make some realizations about my own life and adoption. On the other hand, people might have a completely different response to the film. A more happy one maybe! haha I think that if the people are willing to open up and discuss, I think that would be amazing! I love opening up and having heart to hearts about an amazing subject. Let me know. Sorry if I confused you!

  13. unitedadopteesinternational says:

    FRAUD & FALSIFICATION & IDENTITY THEFT

    I saw my name appearing in regard of the documentary. But I have been quoted wrongly! Its not the families who did falsified the paperwork! The agencies and the government did in cooperation or acknowledgement of the receiving parties. I want to add this before people start thinking that the families of origin are the bad people…What adopters like to believe and also tell adoptees as a truth…

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