THE BLOG
11/17/2014 05:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Struggle With Stereotyping As a Chinese Adoptee

I suppose you could call me a Chinese-American, but truth is, I'm not really all Chinese and I'm not really all American. I feel different ways in different situations. My name is Emily Champion and I am 15 years old. I was born in China in 1999 but I am growing up in America. I was born with cleft lip and palate, which is a birth defect that causes the lip and palate to not form properly. In 2003 I was adopted by two wonderful people, Pat and Jeanne Champion. I'm a sophomore in high school where I am one of less than a handful of Chinese kids, most of whom are not adopted.

emily champion

Throughout my life I have had many struggles with stereotyping and depression because I don't know anything about my biological family. No matter how hard I try, I can never escape stereotyping. I can't even count how many times I have been told that I should be smart "because I'm Asian." The thing is I know I am smart, but I don't feel like it a lot of times. I came here without knowing any English and with an un-repaired palate. I had to have many operations just to start learning how to talk properly and I am still working on my speech problems. I've had reading problems my whole life and I've overcome many obstacles. When you are in "special" education classes and have to do extra reading classes you don't feel very smart and you don't look very smart to other people. I know I'm intelligent but I get very annoyed when people just assume I should be a certain way just because of my race. Truth is, I have a hard time believing in my intelligence sometimes, but luckily I have some great people in my life that help me remember so I can prove to others and myself that I am already a success story.

Another frequent question I'm asked is, "Do you speak Chinese?" It's a question that can immediately make me feel bad about myself and feel ashamed because I don't speak Mandarin. I'm sad about this and I hope to learn my native language again someday, but when I came here I couldn't speak any language correctly. It took me a long time and many operations before my palate and my nose were in good shape and the whole time I was doing speech therapy. Until about fourth grade or so many people complained that they couldn't understand anything I was saying. The speech therapists told my mom to saturate me with the English language. She sent me to preschool with a lot of little kids that didn't have speech problems so I could hear English every day. As I got a little older, many people thought my speech wasn't clear because I was Chinese, not because of my cleft palate. I guess it could be a little bit of both.

emily champion

It was always fun for the boys in grade school to speak crazy made-up Chinese to me and one boy even told me "to go back to China." The really funny thing was, he did it in gym class and my gym teacher heard him and made him get down on his knees and beg me for forgiveness. It's still one of the best days of my life. When I got to middle school the boys would speak mock Chinese behind my back when I tried to answer a question in class. Sometimes they would even do it in front of me. This made me feel awful. I knew I spoke differently from everyone else and I knew I looked different from everyone else, I didn't need the reminder.

So what am I? Where is my community? I learned this summer that I belong to the community of other international adoptees -- other girls (and some boys) who left their birth countries and are being raised in places where no one looks like them. My mom signed me up for this conference in Ohio called Adopteen because I felt alone in my own community. She said that the only people who would know how I felt would be people who have been through what I've been through. So in the summer of 2014, I headed to Ohio and to Adopteen where I was one of about 130 adopted kids from China (and two very nice Romanian brothers who also came). What I learned there was that I didn't have to face my fears and uncertainties about my past alone because now I have a community. At Adopteen we did teen bonding and activities, and they also gave us plenty of time to spend with each other and just have fun. I never knew there could be so many girls who were just like me. Just to spend time with them was the best opportunity I've ever had. I still keep in touch with some of the girls and boys and they are like my second family. There are two more conferences coming up and I am saving my babysitting money and allowance so that I can hopefully go to at least one of them. This means the world to me.

emily champion