Adoption, Culture and Family
On this episode I was honored to interview Natalie Pappas. She was adopted from the Hunan Province of China when she was two years old. I was there on that September day. My husband and I adopted our oldest daughter from the same orphanage. A life changing event.
Natalie Pappas created the online project Tiger Lily Stories to provide a space and a platform for adoptee voices and stories. During our conversation, we talk about race, adoption and Asian American identity.
Pappas graduated from The New School in 2019 with a degree in Literary Studies. Natalie is passionate about fashion, photography, and writing and pursues these interests in her creative and professional work.
Tiger Lily Stories
Welcome to Stories of Change and Creativity. I'm Judy Oskam. I'm a university professor, Gallup strengths coach and Tiny Habits Coach. On this podcast, we feature purpose driven individuals who inspire, motivate and educate. I'm always interested in the choices we make and the journey we take. Well, on this episode, we're talking about adoption culture and family with Natalie Pappas. Natalie was born in the Hunan province of China and was adopted when she was two years old, actually Natalie and my oldest daughter, Danielle were in the same orphanage and adoption group. So I have fond memories of Natalie as a baby. Natalie is a graduate of the new school and she lives in New York. She's passionate about fashion, photography and writing. She developed an online project called Tiger Lily Stories to explore her adoptee and Asian American identity. Tiger Lily Stories is a platform that lets adoptees share their voices and stories. I hope you enjoy our conversation.Natalie Pappas:
So basically, um, during the beginning of the pandemic, um, and the increase of racial attacks, um, against Asian people, I started to reflect more about my adoption and my identity as an adoptee. Um, and as an Asian-American. And so two things really kind of kick-started, um, the idea for this project. Um, the first being, I, I don't remember how I found it, but I watched this documentary, um, one child nation, which is a documentary about the one child policy and just interviews people who had to give up their child, or who knew someone who did the politics in China and what led to this policy. Um, and it just made me aware of certain things that I never knew about. Um, even though my parents like never wants me to feel unwanted for a long time, I did feel a sense of unwanted just because I didn't really know about the politics in China, um, or about the one child policy. All I really knew and internalized was that I was given up. Um, so it really helps clarify things for me. Um, and just, I was better able to understand like what led to this policy. Um, but also made me question some things, um, in the documentary, it talked about how some orphanages or agencies fabricated stories, um, about the adoptees origins, just to make it sound nicer for the people coming to adopt. There were people who became traffickers, um, and brought babies orphanages, um, for money or, or the government, if they found out a family had an extra child, um, they would essentially like kidnap the kidnap this child. Um, I don't, yeah, I don't know about my orphanage or how much information was true, but it just made me think about other adoptees and the stories they were told. Um, and how much, just in general they knew about the one policy you're trying to history. Um, and then with the increase of like racial attacks, I remember I saw those social media posts about how Chinese adoptees or Asian adoptees want to show support for Asian communities, but never sometimes don't really feel included in them. Um, like we feel the negative attitudes from people. We feel the racism, we feel the fear of being attacked. Um, but we don't necessarily have the support of the Asian community. Um, I think a lot of adoptees have felt some sense of alienation just because we can't really connect, um, culturally or linguistically. Um, and we don't really have that connection to the culture or the language through like our parents or whoever. So there's this feeling of in-between. Um, yeah, and that's just something I've become more aware of recently. And I wanted to reach out to other adoptees to see how they felt. Um, I realized I only really knew my adoption story and my feelings about it, but I wanted to hear other people's stories and see if I could connect and learn from their experiences as well as, um, maybe share something that they could connect or learn from as well. Um, ultimately I just wanted to create a community or like a platform for people to share their voices, um, and be able to read and relate to others.Judy Oskam:
Yeah. So, so, yeah. And so, so I saw, I saw your post on, uh, the, uh, China, China children, international site. And, um, I noticed that you used, um, the title Tiger Lily. Why, why did you pick that title?Natalie Pappas:
Um, I, I don't remember how I found this, but I was looking at tiger lilies and I saw that they were native to Asian countries like China, Japan, Korea, and, um, but they're identified as a naturalized plant and naturalized plants are plants that are, that grow in places, um, that aren't, they're like place of origin. And I thought that that pretty much really resonated with obviously like how, what adoptees are. Um, and I know, and I think it's someone mentioned somewhere that like, sometimes people have like a negative attitude towards like these, these naturalized plans. And I know like that's sometimes people adopt, these can feel similar feelings, um, towards us. So it just, yeah, just kind of seemed like a perfect representation for, for us.Judy Oskam:
I love that. And, and I think it does fit very nicely. And, uh, our, I want to tell our listeners that, um, Natalie and I have known each other for a long time. I was there on the day that you were adopted because my daughter Danielle was also adopted and was in the same orphanage. So I feel a special place in my heart for, for, for you guys and for the situation that we've all been going through over the past year. Um, I liked your comment about in between. Can you, can you dive into that a little? What do you mean by feeling sort of in between?Natalie Pappas:
I think for me and then for other people I've talked to, we never really feel part of fully part of one community. So, um, a lot of us growing up like white community, predominantly white communities, and we were always seeing are usually seen as somewhat other, just because of the faith. Um, so you enter, even if we wanted to like maybe connect with like our Chinese identity or something, it would even alienate us even further from, from this community. So we were never fully part of it. And then within the Asian community, um, we're never fully part fully, never really fully included there because we can't, like I said, connect, um, culturally, we don't have the same necessarily the same upbringing, the same connection to food, same connection to language. Um, and I felt that personally, like I went to an international high school and I, there were a lot of other Asian students, a lot of other Chinese students. And I always felt like I never fully belonged within that group. Um, just because I did have these connections. So there's always that sense of like, you don't really have, um, the ability to fully integrate in one sideJudy Oskam:
Has this, has this blog and this website. And has it helped you find your voice in this space?Natalie Pappas:
Yeah, I definitely think so. I think, I think just this blog was platform in itself has created a community for adoptees and for people who don't really have that sense of belonging or ability to share what they're feeling in another space. Um, so it's definitely provided a voice for me to like share my own story and my own feelings, but it also provides voice for others to share their, their experiences.Judy Oskam:
Talk about the reaction and what you have been hearing from other Chinese adoptees.Natalie Pappas:
I mean, people, people have said that they're very grateful, um, that I, that the space was created to, like I said, to provide, um, a platform for them to share their story. Um, and just because like, we've all, we've all felt the sense of like alienation or not belonging and just having the space where we can connect to others and feel like, feel that we're less alone and not, um, the only ones experiencing these things. Um, yeah, it's been really great.Judy Oskam:
Well, and you know, you know, you wrote on your, on your blog that, that, um, without the proper language and knowledge, some people are even too afraid to ask......treating adoptees and adoption is somewhat of an anomaly or an enigma, but we are more than the labels of adoptee or Asia. What did you mean by that?Natalie Pappas:
I think people, when they think of adoption, they see it as almost somewhat of like a taboo subject. Um, it's and it's not something that like you should be afraid to about or ask questions about a lot of adoptees I've talked to have had people apologize when people, um, when the doctor tells them that they're adopted. And I think people can see adoption's very like one note kind of way, especially in the saviorism kind of way. Like we adoptees where this terrible situation. Now we should be like very happy and grateful that we were like saved. Um, and I want people to shift their language around adoption. If they're going to ask questions or talk about it. Um, instead of saying things like you miss, like your real parents, you could say, like, how do you feel about your birth parents? Um, so just like seeing that we're not just this thing that people don't really understand, and we have our own story, we have our own viewpoints on our adoption, but it's also, we're more than that. Like, we were artists where we were students where, um, we were scientists, like all these things. We, we'd not, we're not just like our, our beginning of our origin.Judy Oskam:
Right. And I've always tried to tell my kids that you really, it's your story to tell. And I think it's your story to tell you, right in here together yet individual collective yet apart, we all have roots where all the voice of tiger lilies. And I love that. I love how you ended that on your, on the first page. And then it goes the website just to, you know, describe that for our listeners is a, and we'll put this in the show notes so people can find your site. Um, but you have such, such, um, um, special and intimate stories from other adoptees. Uh, and I guess if people were interested in, they, they were, were adopted, they can contact you and submit a story and they don't have to give their name. Right. Cause you have one or two that are anonymous in there.Natalie Pappas:
Yes. Right?Judy Oskam:
Yeah. What's been the most surprising, um, that you have heard from, from other adoptees what's surprised you the most?Natalie Pappas:
I think, I think the way some parents have approached, um, adoption or have communicated with their, with their child, I think for my, for myself, like my parents have always been very open to talking with me, um, about my adoption and they never really approached it like in the saviors and kind of way where like you should be grateful or, or anything like that. But I've been surprised that a lot of adoptees or a few adoptees that I've spoken to have not had a great relationship with their parents in this aspect. Um, either their parents don't want to talk about their adoption or the feelings the adoptees had, or they may invalidate the sense of feelings. You shouldn't be sad about this because like you have this, you have a loving family and a great home, but that really just kind of invalidates any feelings of loss. Um, and it just pushes away any negative feelings when they should be as respected, um, and, and heard as positive ones. So, um, and, and then I've also another adoptee has told me that she doesn't have a great relationship with her mom because she thinks her mom feels guilt when her daughter tries to learn more about Chinese culture, because she feels that she's lacking the mom and feels like she's lacking in some way. Like she didn't provide enough or anything like that. So I think there's what surprised me is just some like misunderstandings and miscommunications, I think between the parent and the adoptee,Judy Oskam:
What do you want readers to learn from your blog about the idea of family and adoption? Is there something there that readers can learn and take away, um, to better understand how adoption is part of family and family is always a part of adoption?Natalie Pappas:
Yeah. I think just understanding that and pushing your mindset out of the traditional framework of what you think of family should be like, that they should look the same and maybe they should be the same. Um, family can be comprised of a lot of different components, a lot of different aspects. Um, and I think it should, shouldn't be such a strange thing. Like if you see someone who looks, um, someone who looks different in, within a family group,Judy Oskam:
Um, Natalie, the idea of color I've had to learn, um, throughout my years, as an adoptive mom about color, because the idea of saying, I don't see color is not really accurate or not really helpful, I think. Um, but I have learned, and you can tell me what you think of this is to think about, I see your color and I value I value it. Is that a better way to think about race, ethnicity, and color people of color?Natalie Pappas:
I think so. I think when people say things like, I don't see color, like they say it from a place maybe I'm trying to help, but in actuality, I think it, again, it invalidates or negates anything this person of color might, might be feeling might be going through. Um, by saying like blanket statement, I don't see this race, then you're saying, I don't see the problems that come up with someone who is a person of color. Um, so by saying, you know, that you do see someone it's saying, seeing someone as a person of color, you're saying that you see the struggles that they're, that they can go through, um, you see the feelings that they might have. Um, and you recognize for them particularly what the struggles that they could go through. So,Judy Oskam:
Yeah, I think that's what I, I came to the conclusion because I would look at my daughters and I would not think, oh, there's my Chinese daughter. I would just think there's my daughter. Right. So just kind of understanding that it was important for me to validate that, um, was, was a learning experience for me. Um, and I think, I think sites like yours really do help us better understand your perspective. And where, where do you want to take this website and what's next for you, Natalie?Natalie Pappas:
Um, I mean, I definitely want to interview talk to more adoptees, I think maybe expand it. Um, right now I've only been interviewing Chinese adoptees, but maybe expands talk to the Korean adoptees or other Asian adoptees, um, just to kind of get a better sense another yeah. But our understanding and see the, kind of the differences between the adoptions of systems within, um, different countries. I also maybe want to, right now, it's pretty much just focus on adoptees and their adoption story is, but like I said before, um, like we mentioned before, we're obviously more than our adoption or adoption story. So I want to kind of showcase or highlight, um, things that like this, this, these people that I'm interviewing are passionate about. So for example, I talked to an adoptee who's really into illustration or another adoptee who's really into photography and other adoptees really into like social justice. Um, so I might want to create another, another, um, case these, um, these, th these things that make these, make us who we are, um, or even I might eventually want, I've been, I'm really into like videography. So I might want to create a video featuring, um, different adoptees and kind of compiling our stories in that way. Um, long-term like down the road when I, if I'm able to like talk to enough adoptees, I might want to try to publish these stories as like an anthology. Um, but yeah, I think that'sJudy Oskam:
I think you really do have the opportunity to do, to do a book with some folks I can see, you know, with your background in film and photography, you could include that in there. And I think that would be really an interesting, I think it would capture a piece of history and that's something that I think about when you look at Asians in America, the adoptees are a very important part of the Asian American story. And I think you're helping us write this right now. That's kind of the way I see it. Is there anything you would like readers to take away from your site?Natalie Pappas:
People who aren't adoptees? Um, I think just learning, learning the language, shifting the language around adoption. Um, I also want people to learn not to invalidate, um, adoptees, like sense of loss. Um, I want ultimately for them to read these stories and get a better understanding of who we are and more willing and just to be more willing to listen and learn. Um, and then for adoptees, I hope they find a sense of comfort and knowing they aren't alone in the feelings and struggles they've had, um, growing up or currently, um, I also provided like resources page on the website with links to adoptee Facebook groups, um, like birth parents or searches, movies, podcasts. Um, so I hope they can find more communities to be part of and just continue to educate themselves, um, and just learn more about China's history and adoption in general.Judy Oskam:
I love it, Natalie. Thank you for the work you're doing and thank you for, for providing a resource for all of us to learn more about these topics. Thanks for joining us today. Thank you.Natalie Pappas:
Thank you for having me.Judy Oskam:
Thank you for listening to Stories of Change and Creativity. Check out the show notes for more information about this episode. And remember if you have a story to tell or know someone who does reach out to me at judyoskam.com and thanks for listening.