‘Were you baked too long?’ Tears ran down my face. ‘You’re EXTRA black.’: Transracial adoptee urges ‘family comes in all different ways’

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Adoption, what an amazing time for families, but it can also be a very difficult time. From the outside, it looks like rainbows and sugar plums, but when you step into the shoes of an adopted child, it’s a totally different story. I am going to share my journey from my perspective, which might not be what everyone expects to read. Remember, this is what I personally encountered. Everyone’s stories will be different.

When I was a junior in high school (2007-2008), I was in the process of writing my college admissions paper. I ended up receiving my bachelor’s degree as a social worker for adoption and foster care. The purpose of my paper was to describe my economic and social background as a child. As I was writing the paper, I only went off what I remembered as memories of growing up in India and the stories my adopted family told me.

An Indian transracial adoptee and her family stand toegther outdoors
Courtesy of Shanthi Teike

My mother read my paper, turned to me, and said, ‘I have papers for you. I believe it is time to share with you.’ As she walked down the stairs into our basement she came back up with a blue folder. She told me, ‘These are your adoption papers.’ I grabbed the folder, went to my room, and read page by page about 3-4 times. Each time I read it, I cried more and more. For years, I had unanswered questions about my birth parents, why was I put into an orphanage, what my mother’s and father’s names were, and the list goes on. The adoption papers did give me some answers, but not enough to help give me the closure I needed.

It’s March 5, 1990, in a small town known as Chennai (or as we know it, Madras), which is one of the poorest areas in India. You can hear the cars honking their horns in every direction, smell hundreds of curry spices being sold in small markets, and see small kids begging for food and animals walking along the dirt roads. I lived in India in an orphanage for 4 years and moved to two different locations between the ages of six months and four years.

My birth mom gave me up when I was 6 months and put me in an orphanage called the Foundling Home. There, I had amazing caregivers who took care of me until I was adopted. My birth mom wanted a better life for me, so she had to make a very tough decision and knew putting me in an orphanage would give me a better chance of finding a forever home. When living in the Foundling Home, I remember eating porridge and rice. I remember a small playground on the first floor of a 4-story building with no glass windows and concrete dirt floors. I remember the young boys and girls who lived there. When I lived in the orphanage, I didn’t speak. I was a very quiet and shy girl. One of the doctors who would report back to my adopted parents had concerns I had a language barrier issue. Down the road, as I got older, I found out I had an English as a second language barrier.

My parents wanted more kids, so they decided to adopt. My name came across a radio station and my parents prayed to God He would bring me home to them as their forever child. I was the last child who was adopted in the southern part of India before adoption was no longer allowed to happen. I have an older sister (Erin) and an older brother (David). They were so excited to have a new sister joining the family. A normal adoption process takes about two full years to complete. The amount of paperwork, all the questioning, all the reports you have to send to your case manager…it makes it a very long, stressful, and grueling time for families who are adopting or considering adoption.

I just remember coming to the United States scared, confused, and uncertain. I remember crying when I arrived at the Chicago O’Hare Airport early on the morning of May 15, 1994. My flight trip was a day and a half long. I remember wearing a dress with bangles on my ankles. As I said goodbye to my caregiver, who had flown with me to bring me to my forever family, my fear grew bigger because I didn’t understand at the age of four what was happening. I was unfamiliar with my surroundings and did not understand my parents now were going to be my forever family.

A young Indian adoptee sits with her older siblings
Courtesy of Shanthi Teike

I did not speak English, so communication with my family was very difficult at first. They picked up certain words but had to figure out the rest by watching me point to things. I spoke my native tongue which is called Tamil. As we traveled back to our hometown, my fear and uncertainty did not last long. I remember receiving a stuffed animal dog my sister and brother gave me as a gift, which I still cherish today. I remember sitting in the backseat of our van throwing the stuffed animal from the backseat to the front seat laughing and giggling all the way home. I remember seeing the smiles on my family’s faces which gave me some peace to know God had a plan.

An adoptive family stands together, the mother holding her Indian daughter
Courtesy of Shanthi Teike
A pair of siblings teach their adopted sister how to roller blade
Courtesy of Shanthi Teike

I remember my mother showing me my new room and walking me everywhere in the house to help me get acquainted with my new surroundings. I remember my dad letting me sit in his favorite chair with him and reading books to me all the time. With all this, what I didn’t expect was facing all the many struggles and hardships of being an Asian Indian living in the United States. I was not prepared for nor did I know how to deal with the struggles I encountered then and still encounter today as an adult.

An adoptive father holds up his daughter to shoot a basketball
Courtesy of Shanthi Teike

I have gone through more struggles than you can imagine. One of the many struggles I deal with and get asked a lot is, ‘Do you know your birth parents?’ As a young child at the time, I had a difficult time answering that question. They would ask me, ‘Why did your birth parents give you up?’ I would give them answers, but it wasn’t good enough. I would tell them they wanted a better life for me. They would continue asking, ‘Is it because they didn’t want you?’ I had a difficult time processing how people were treating me because I felt like I had to give an answer or they would continue asking.

I, unfortunately, do not have any information about my birth parents. I just have what my adoption papers have given me. Another question I get asked is, ‘Are you ever going to find your birth parents?’ or ‘Why are you not willing to look for them?’ It’s not because I am not willing to find them, it’s because I have a family now. I don’t go through life not wondering what happened to them. I still think about them. When the right time comes, I will consider that path and look for them, but I am very happy with my forever family. My parents now are my parents, and they will be my parents for the rest of my life!

Another set of problems I go through are racial issues. Living in the southern part of India, the skin color is much darker than those who live in the northern part. I get made fun of a lot for being dark-skinned. One comment someone said to me and still today just crushes me was, ‘Were you baked too long?’ I remember this day like it was yesterday when I was asked that question. I looked at the person with a confused and puzzled face, not understanding what they were meaning. I remember asking, ‘What do you mean?’ Then the person said, “Were you baked too long because you are extra black?’ I didn’t know how to reply. I just remember walking away and having tears running down my face.

A young adopted girl gardening with her mother
Courtesy of Shanthi Teike

There are so many times I would go home crying in my sleep because I felt like I didn’t belong or was accepted because I was black. I had times when I just wanted to leave and go back to India where I felt like I belonged. I have been called chocolate cake, the ‘n’ word, and the list goes on. Another incident I encountered was a school teacher who told me I had clay on my face. I was in a ceramics class, and the teacher came up to me and told me that. I took it literally thinking I had clay on my face. I turned to my classmate and asked her, ‘Do I have clay on my face?’ She told me, ‘NO!’ Then, it hit me: the teacher was making a racial statement to me. The teacher would pick on me and treat me like I was ‘stupid’ and couldn’t do anything right. The clay we were using was dark clay. I remember going home and telling my mom. She was extremely upset! She ended up going to the school and talking to the teacher.

An Indian transracial adoptee wearing a purple shirt and cross necklace
Courtesy of Shanthi Teike

These are just a few examples of what I went through as an adopted child and still go through today. Racial statements will never end for me. I would have people who would ask my parents if I was their daughter because of my skin tone. We would go to places, have just met people, or whatever, and without fail, someone would just have the nerve to come up and be noisy and ask, ‘Is she an exchange student?’ My parents and siblings would get defensive and be like, ‘No, she is our sister or our daughter’ depending on who they were asking. The people asking would give us a puzzled look like, ‘How is she your daughter when she doesn’t look like you?’ What some people miss is family comes in all different ways.

A transracial adopted child stands with her siblings by a Christmas tree
Courtesy of Shanthi Teike

The last thing I struggle with is acceptance. Acceptance is something I still have a hard time with today. The reason I struggle with acceptance is because it’s so hard to know whether people out there actually care about my journey as an adopted child or they just want to be in my personal business.

Being an adopted child has its up and downs. I love that I have a forever family who loves me for who I am and accepts me. They do not look at color, where I am from, or anything. They see a daughter. They see me as their own. I am their daughter, and that means everything. I have loving parents and siblings whom I could not see my life without. They raised me up and made me the person I am today!

They taught me to never give up and always have faith in God! I thank God every day for blessing me with my forever family. God had a plan, and he knew I needed them and they needed me to complete our family! My family has been my biggest support system through so many of my struggles as an adopted child. They were there to pick me up when I was beaten down so much emotionally from all the negative comments I would receive from people. My family is overprotective when it comes to my adoption journey, and I thank them for that!

An Indian transracial adoptee stands with her family in a church
Courtesy of Shanthi Teike

I hope what you take from my story is if you are considering adopting or already have adopted, keep in mind there will be tough times. Please do not give up on your adopted child. Don’t forget to have your adopted child’s back. Treat them as your own, and give them time for an adjustment period. Adopting is an incredible opportunity that brings so much joy into a child’s life and your life. I am beyond blessed to know I have family who I can call my own for the rest of my life!

Remember this: FAMILY comes in all different shapes, sizes, colors, races, etc. Family is everything! FAMILY is the glue that holds life together.”

An adoptee and her partner in front of trees in the fall
Courtesy of Shanthi Teike

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Shanthi Teike of Indiana. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories from adoptees here:

‘Do you know why your REAL parents didn’t want you?’ They wonder how much I ‘cost.’ Truth is, love has no limits. Family is not confined or defined by blood.’: Transracial adoptee details journey, ‘I wouldn’t change a thing’

‘They bluntly asked, ‘So, where is your real Mom? She didn’t want you? Is there something wrong with you?’ Everywhere I went, I stuck out like a sore thumb.’: Transracial adoptee says ‘it’s okay to grieve the loss of your birth family’

‘I yelled across the house, ‘I just found our baby!’ My husband went silent. We both knew we needed to say YES.’: Adoptee turned adoptive mama urges ‘love knows no boundaries’

‘I should be there.’ I saw them hanging out on social media. All I wanted to know is where I came from.’: After rejections by biological family, adoptee says ‘your family is who you want them to be’

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