Adopted from China: Finding identity through heritage

Story highlights

  • Thousands of girls are adopted out of China each year, ending up in homes around the world
  • Many of them find identity and purpose in returning to China to visit their roots
  • Adoptive parents often choose to travel back to China frequently with their adopted children
  • Many adoptive parents feel it a duty to teach their children about where they came from
When Maia Stack returned to the pagoda, or tower, where she had been abandoned as a baby she was overwhelmed by what had happened there 11 years earlier.
"I remember thinking, 'Wow, I wonder if my birth family hid behind those bushes or something'" said Stack, now 18 years old, on returning to Hangzhou, China.
"I felt very disengaged throughout the entire process. I kind of removed myself from the situation because it was too emotionally challenging."
Stack is one of tens of thousands of children -- 95% percent of whom are girls -- who have been adopted from China since its government ratified international adoption in 1992.
In 1979, Chinese officials introduced the one-child policy requiring that couples have only one child to slow the country's massive population growth.
With only one chance to pass on the family name, many Chinese couples are unhappy having a girl and either abort the pregnancy or abandon the baby.
Because of this, China is one of the easiest countries from which to do an international adoption, according to ACC, a U.S.-based adoption agency that specializes in China. The process takes around two years and costs between US$19,000 and $23,000.
Many of those adoptees eventually visit China to experience their heritage first-hand.
Being Chinese helped to define Stack's childhood growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She and her sister, who is also adopted from China, attended a Saturday school to learn Chinese language and culture while other children were playing soccer or baseball.
Stack was home schooled until partway through high school and attended a group of students that never treated her differently. However, when she started attending a charter school where she was the only Asian in a group of 40 students things changed.
"I did feel much like an outsider. I had the darkest skin, the only head of black hair in a sea of blond and brown," she said. "As the 'representative Asian,' the kids fed back to me the typical stereotypes about Asians -- super smart, good in math, short ... While they didn't mean harm, it did hurt."
Spending four-and-a-half months in Beijing in 2011 studying Mandarin changed her outlook.
"I feel very proud to be both Chinese and American," she said. "I know that those things will always be a part of me whether I live in China or in America."
Today, Stack is a board member of China's Children International -- an