Marli Grace | The Voice of a China Adoptee


I want to introduce Marli. She is an adult adoptee and has decided to share her story to guide, encourage and teach about international adoption from the other side. Her story and heart are sweet and kind. I hope that her account inspires and encourages you to be intentional in your journey through adoption.

Hi, my name is Marli Grace and I am 20 years old. I am a Junior in college and have grown up mostly in the south. I was adopted from Changsha, Hunan China in 1998 when I was 14 mos old. Alright, let's go!

Did you grow up knowing many other adopted people? Chinese, Japanese, Asian, mixed race people? How did that influence how you feel about your identity and how others perceive you?

My parents actually went through the adoption process with my mother’s best friend from middle school. My mother and her had dreamed of having Chinese daughters. My mother’s friend was able to bring home her daughter from China a couple of months before my parents came for me. So growing up, we were very good family friends. My mother’s friend was way better at getting us involved in Chinese cultural events as young kids. Other than the other mutual adopted friends in our area, I was not really involved in many adoptee centered activities. When I was little, people always knew I was adopted because of the stark physical differences and people always thought it was sweet and cute. But now that I’m older, it’s weird for me to go places with my dad because they think I’m his wife or girlfriend and that’s just awkward!! First of all, no! And Second of all, NO!! Ugh…. And sometimes when I go out to eat with my mom they will ask if the bill is separate as if we are just friends meeting up. Those small things don’t really matter but sometimes they can sting and prevent me from doing things alone with my parents because I don’t want to have an awkward encounter. My parents always say that I’m too sensitive about those little things but I really just don’t like being in those positions…I always thought people’s very first impression of me was that oh she’s asian and probably really smart. But if you ask my friends and people I know, they wouldn’t say anything like that. I once had to do a survey and ask people how they would describe me and it really shocked me. I received answers like, sweet, hilarious, adventurous, goofy and so on. They were all positive and none of them had to do with the way I looked, so it made me think maybe I am the shallow one thinking only of outer appearances. Then again, those people know me so maybe if I asked strangers if would be different?

What is the best and worst thing, in your experience, about being adopted?

This is a tough question… I feel that the concept of adoption is so beautiful but also very heartbreaking. The hardest thing about being adopted for me was that I stick out like a sore thumb everywhere I go. It was never really the fact that I was adopted that people harped on, it was the fact that I was Asian. I guess the cliche answer is that I have a way better and fortune life here in American in comparison to what my live could have been like in China. I am blessed with many things like freedom, parents who love me, and opportunities for my future. I think everyone goes through an “identity crisis” finding out who you are, who you want to be etc. I think that as an adoptee, we have just another layer to dig through that is tough, sometimes painful but I’ve learned the more I try to understand myself, motives, and feelings that it helps me know who I am. I really struggled with expressing my feelings when I was little. I think I just had so many feelings I didn’t know what to do with them and out of the blue I would explode and have a really bad day full of anger, tears, and being mean :( I would just bottle everything up and sometimes not even know why I was upset. Some parents would call that just a moody teenager, but all of this happened all the years when I was under the age of 13. I’ve had to learn to voice my feelings and tell people what’s going on. It’s still hard because I sometimes still struggle with this fear of rejection; I want to put my best foot forward and not show people that I may be hurting inside. I think that’s normal but it was also something that I’ve had to work through and still work on.

Did you struggle with your family about anything related to your adoption?

Do you feel _Chinese_ American? Is that important to you? How do your peers treat you, and how did they treat you growing up, whenever being Japanese, Chinese, Asian, adopted, or otherwise "different" came up?

I don’t think I ever really feel Chinese American… I’m not sure what that really means to feel it. I’ve always felt purely American or “white” UNTIL someone points out the differences by either making a racist joke (that I never understand because they never actually apply to me) or describe me in some way, like, “the chinese one” or “hey asian” or something really dumb. I never was picked on or treated differently because of the fact that I was adopted, but more along the lines that I was asian. I think that if I were younger again, I would want to be told that it’s okay that I’m Chinese and that it should be something to be proud about. I think for a long time, I felt that being Chinese was somehow wrong so I felt embarrassed about being Chinese. So with all that being said, I think I wish that my parents would have helped me embrace that part of who I am better; wether it was celebrating the Chinese New Year, having more diverse family friends, learning about Chinese culture, chinese history, or chinese language. I don’t think just eating Chinese take-out was very helpful because after going back to China, real Chinese food is not like most take-out places! :) But also take in mind, there is a very important timing with all this “learning”. I would say it is pivotal when they are very small! As young as you can start is good. Because let’s face it, once middle school hits; our emotions, thoughts, and brain is all over the place. In middle school, I wanted to rebel from my parents and never truly listened to anything they said, but instead listened more to my friends because at that time you are really just trying to fit in and “find yourself”. I think if I would have gone into middle school with some understanding and pride in being Chinese American that it would have helped. Again, if my parents were to have said “here we are going to meet this other girl who is also adopted so you will have some adopted friends” when I was in middle school, I would have flipped because thenI would think that my parents were trying to categorize me into a different group other than the norm. I know that sounds so petty but in all honesty I was so touchy about the subject once I reached middle school. So I think building those bonds and connections while the child is y