Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Chinese adoptees coming together

For years, as American parents toted their adopted Chinese daughters to dragon fairs and New Year's banquets, they wondered: Will these girls eventually try to band together on their own? And if so, when?

Juliette Foley and her mother, Jeanne Brody, of the Delaware Valley Families With Children From China.
Juliette Foley and her mother, Jeanne Brody, of the Delaware Valley Families With Children From China.Read moreED HILLE / Inquirer Staff Photographer

For years, as American parents toted their adopted Chinese daughters to dragon fairs and New Year's banquets, they wondered: Will these girls eventually try to band together on their own? And if so, when?

The answers: yes, and now.

For the last few months, a 29-year-old Southern California adoptee named Jennifer Jue-Steuck has traveled the world, forging connections to create the first organization run by and for Chinese adoptees, nearly 62,000 of whom have come to the United States over the last 15 years.

Formation of Chinese Adoptee Links International (CAL) represents a new chapter in an unfolding saga and comes at a turbulent time, as China implements stricter rules that seem sure to limit foreign adoptions.

"We're on a different journey than our parents are on," said Jue-Steuck, who will make a promotional stop in Philadelphia on June 3 and in Doylestown on June 5. "There are some things that would be meaningful for us to have conversations among ourselves."

For instance, if you're born Chinese and raised in a white family, do you see beauty in faces that look like yours, or your parents'? How do you handle racism? How do you live comfortably in a society in which some people, maybe even in your extended family, will forever see you as a foreigner?

CAL - whose board of directors includes Amanda Baden, a noted adoption researcher at Montclair State University in New Jersey - was formed to find answers, to foster sisterhood, mentorship and, eventually, advocacy. The group sponsors a newsletter, a Web site and social events, for now limited to California. CAL doesn't yet offer adoptees a way to meet online.

Haddonfield mother Carter Lee envisions a day when her girls, Emilee, 8, and Tao, 4, could feel the need to join a group like CAL.

"For kids to have a network or a Web site or a group - for them, by them - is empowering," Lee said.

Lia Luciano, 17, an adoptee from Kunming who lives in Saddle Brook, N.J., has signed up for CAL's pen-pal program, which connects girls here with counterparts in Europe.

"It's very interesting learning about their life background and how they ended up in the orphanage or foster care," Luciano said.

In China, coercive government birth quotas and a societal preference for sons result in the routine abandonment of baby girls, thousands of whom land in state-run orphanages. Last year China sent 6,493 children to this country, the seventh consecutive year it led the world in adoptions to the United States.

Of course, as this cohort of girls and young women make their way through life, not all see a Chinese sisterhood as crucial.

"I'd like to have connections with other adoptees, as it might give us something in common, but I don't feel that it would guarantee a strong friendship," said McKenzie Forbes, 18, concluding her freshman year at Dickinson College in Carlisle.

"I'm not saying that we, as Chinese adoptees, should completely throw away or forget who we are," she said. "But it would actually be beneficial to treat us as simply Americans."

Many mothers and fathers connect their adoptive daughters to other girls and similar families, mainly through the support organization Families With Children From China (FCC). More than 450 families belong to chapters in the Philadelphia and South Jersey areas.

"Once these girls enter college, they're going to find themselves removed from the familiar network of local adoptees," said Phyllis Nellis, who with her husband, Amasa, is raising two daughters in Media. "I like the idea that there could potentially be a network in place for them."

"So far, what's on the site is for older adoptees," said Jeanne Brody, who with her husband, William Foley, is raising Caroline, 12, and Juliette, 9, in Wallingford.

Preteens are more interested in music and boys than in adoption issues, noted Brody, who runs the "As They Grow" committee of the Delaware Valley FCC. But as they age, and confront issues such as China's treatment of women, they may well take part in CAL, she said.

Kids who have arrived since the 1990s joined a small number of older adoptees - such as Jue-Steuck - who came before the mainland opened, often from such places as Hong Kong and Taiwan. Because newer emigres usually arrive as babies or toddlers, their histories are learned from their parents: Here's where you lived in China. Here's how you came here.

Many foresee a time when the girls will essentially tell their parents, I'll take it from here.

"I think CAL has a future connecting kids," said board member Peggy Scott, who grew up in Jenkintown and is president of the Northern California FCC, with 690 member families.

The idea for CAL came in late 2006, after Jue-Steuck traveled to France, Spain and Ireland to conduct research for her doctorate at the University of California-Berkeley. She was struck by the number of Chinese adoptees she met.

"They were very curious about the Chinese girls in the U.S.," she said. "I thought, 'How could we get you two hooked up?' "

A pen-pal program expanded into a Web presence and, from there, to dances and movie nights. In March, Jue-Steuck visited England, Ireland and Belgium to meet adoptees. She'll soon tour U.S. cities.

While the kids here have a much larger peer group, and thus greater chance to interact, Jue-Steuck said, the girls' questions haven't varied much from country to country.

"They just like to know they've met someone who is older, who has been there," she said.

CAL is run by volunteers on three continents. Membership is free.

Jue-Steuck, who arrived from Taiwan at age 2, hopes CAL will be a true pan-Asian adoptee movement, since many girls have siblings from Vietnam or Korea. She also wants it to be an advocate for changing laws such as China's one-child policy.

"There are thousands upon thousands of young Chinese adoptees who are spread out across the world," said CAL board member Mei-Mei Ellerman, a scholar at Brandeis University, adopted in 1943.

"It's really, really important that these young people have each other."

Events for Chinese Adoptees

Two regional gatherings will be held as part of the Sizzlin' Summer Tour of Chinese Adoptee Links International. Events are free and open to all:


Social Gathering

1-2 p.m. June 3

(meet in the lobby),

Sofitel, 120 S. 17th St., Philadelphia.


Social Gathering

3:30-4:30 p.m. June 5,

Bucks County Free Library (meet in the Children's Section), 150 S. Pine St., Doylestown.

Updates will be

posted online at www.