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Adopted students overcome cultural prejudice
Photo contributed by Anna Mei Bromley
Webster University freshman Maureen Gage has not found her biological mother. She doesn’t even know if her mother is alive.
“I keep her picture on my bulletin board at home, so I can always look up and see her,” Gage said.
Gage’s best friend, freshman Anna Mei Bromley, has not found her own birth mother, and she said she suspects she never will, since she was likely abandoned at birth.
“I will probably never be that miracle story,” Bromley said.
Bromley and Gage were adopted from other countries at a young age. Gage was adopted from Guatemala by white parents, and Bromley was adopted from China by a single white mother. The two have faced issues with race and adoption, but through those struggles they have stayed positive and a found sense of belonging.
Challenges and prejudices
Both women have had a series of challenges to overcome during their adolescence as a result of being adopted. Bromley said her race was a big issue for her growing up.
“When you are in Missouri (as an Asian person), there’s not many people who look like you. Sometimes that was hard when I was younger. God knows there’s a reason why I was obsessed with Mulan for most of my life,” Bromley said.
Bromley also said she faced difficulty accepting her appearance in elementary school.
“When you’re in a second-grade classroom and everyone else has blonde or brunette, long, pretty hair and has a mom, dad and siblings, you’re just this awkward Asian kid with weird bangs. Sometimes it was hard just trying to blend in,” Bromley said.
Bromley’s struggles with racial differences continued into her high school years. She said she did not face issues with being adopted; it was more about her being Asian.
“We had Chinese classes in high school, and this one guy would ask me what I was doing. I would say, ‘This is my Chinese homework,’ and he would say, ‘Oh I just assumed you were fluent in Chinese.’ And that was really annoying,” she said.
Other issues arose when strangers asked questions about Bromley’s background. Even her mother was asked questions about whether she had married a Chinese man, or whether her daughter spoke Chinese—questions Bromley thought were crossing the line.
“Sometimes people would ask things that were just on the line of being kind of racist. Yes, I know a lot about China, but I’m not that different from you,” she said.
As she has gotten older, a personal challenge Bromley faces is not knowing her past. She said this is something that saddens her, and that it is frustrating not knowing who her biological parents are.
“I don’t have that connection with anybody that I can say, ‘I got this feature from this person,’ or, ‘I have a history of this in my family.’ Sometimes it’s hard because you want to know,” Bromley said. “I’m not completely Chinese; I’m not completely American; I’m not Chinese-American … it’s just hard to deal with. I’m just me.”
Like Bromley, Gage felt prejudices against her because of her ethnicity. Many people assume she is Mexican rather than Guatemalan. She said she has had issues with belonging, especially because of her appearance. Her darker skin and hair stood apart from others in high school, and she was the only Hispanic in her class until fourth grade.
“But I don’t think other people focused as much on my skin and hair. They focused on my height,” Gage said. “Guatemalans tend to be on the shorter side. I’m 4 feet 9 inches tall, and it was easy for people to pick on me because of that.”
Birthplace and background
Gage was born in Guatemala’s capital, Guatemala City. Her mother was poor, as were most people in the country. She had children, but then her first husband left her. After marrying a second time, she became pregnant with Gage. Her new husband wanted her to have an abortion because having another child would have been expensive. She refused to have an abortion, so her second husband left her.
“Her family supported her and found another solution: adoption. And I’m really grateful for her and that she made the right decision,” Gage said.
Immediately after Gage was born, she was sent to live with a foster mom. She stayed there for four months until her adoptive parents came for her. She was adopted by a family who already had two biological sons.
“My dad taught himself Spanish so that when he came and got me he could understand what the people were saying,” Gage said. “Then I came here to St. Louis. I live in Kirkwood, and that’s where I grew up. I’m very close to my parents; they were the only parents I ever really knew.”
Gage said she misunderstood the reason she was given up for adoption when she was younger because she did not know the full story of her mother’s background. But her adoptive parents kept a box of baby information about Gage. Her father translated everything in the box about her birth mother into English. Once Gage looked at the box, her perception about her birth mother changed.
“Now having known her reason for giving me up, I understand more. And I’m not angry at her anymore,” Gage said. “There were times I was sad and angry at her because I thought that she didn’t want me, when in fact it was the opposite.”
Bromley was adopted from China in 1996 by a single mother. She lived in an orphanage until she was adopted at seven months old. Then she came to live in St. Louis with her new family. She is still an only child, and her mother never married.
“The reason probably why I was given up (for adoption) was because there was a one-child policy in China. Also there were a lot of old traditional values, like preferring having boys over girls,” Bromley said.
Although Bromley knows the village and orphanage she came from in China, she does not know who her biological parents are. She said the reason she will never find them is because it was probably illegal to abandon a child after birth.
“I’m probably not going to find her. I’ll never find my birth parents,” she said. “As sad as that is, it gets me really interested in those people who do find their birth parents. Those miracle stories really interest me.”
Pushing past the prejudgments
Aside from the challenges and stereotypes they have faced, both girls look past their problems and have found a positive light about their adoptions. Bromley said although she had issues with belonging at times, she realized people should always be proud of who they are.
“If you were adopted and have issues with a feeling of abandonment, just remember you may not know the whole story. Don’t automatically think a negative thing,” Bromley said. “There was someone thousands of miles away that wanted you. Just remember that. You have a family that loves you, and that’s what should matter.”
Gage agrees. She said she focuses on the family she has now. She also had advice for anyone who feels abandoned.
“You are wanted, because you are here and you are alive,” she said.