News / USA

New Documentary Explores Chinese-American Adoptees

Haley Butler is one of four Chinese-American adoptees chronicled in the new documentary Haley Butler is one of four Chinese-American adoptees chronicled in the new documentary "Somewhere Between."
x
Haley Butler is one of four Chinese-American adoptees chronicled in the new documentary
Haley Butler is one of four Chinese-American adoptees chronicled in the new documentary "Somewhere Between."
Since China enacted the one-child policy in the late 1970s, tens of thousands of Chinese children, mostly girls, have been adopted around the world. Since 1989, over 80,000 have been adopted in the United States alone. 

Four of these adoptees are the subject of the new documentary, “Somewhere Between,” in which filmmaker Linda Goldstein Knowlton chronicles the lives of Chinese-American teenagers as they struggle to find themselves.

Haley, one of the subjects, jokes at one point in the movie, “I’m a banana. I’m yellow on the outside and white on the inside.”

Knowlton says her interest in the topic stems from her own experience adopting a child from China, particularly after she and her husband joined a one-year reunion of families who had also adopted children from China at the same time as they did.

“I really wanted to explore identity and how my daughter would develop her identity, growing up in a transracial family,” she said.

Adolescence was particularly intriguing to Knowlton because “there is a part of it where all you want to do is stand out. Then all you want to do is fit in.”

“I thought it would be a very intriguing place to start, to talk, to see what it would be like to be adolescent in a transracial family,” she said. “Instead of going to talk to experts, parents and all that, I realized there were thousands and thousands of girls experiencing adolescence that were adopted from China. So I thought I wanted to go talk to the experts, and have the film be from their point of view.”

The film follows Haley, Jenna, Ann and Fang, all typical American teens except for having been born in China. Over three years of filming, the four meet with other adoptees, some go back to China to reconnect, deal with stereotypes, all in a universal quest to find their identity and a sense of belonging.

The four come from different backgrounds, representing urban and rural, diverse areas and homogenous ones. Jenna, for example, attends the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, while Haley is deeply Christian and home-schooled in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I wanted each of these girls to represent in a way for this whole big group,” Knowlton said. “But there is no one way to feel about being adopted. No one way to feel about being born in China. There’s no one way about being a teenager.”

She added that there is a range of how much the subjects think about being adopted, how much they think about birth families, how much they struggle or don’t struggle with their identities and racial stereotypes.

Both Haley and Fang, for example, nurture their connections with Chinese culture, each going back to China regularly. Fang, who has been back every year since she was adopted, has a more unusual experience, as she was adopted at the age of five, not as an infant.

Knowlton accompanied her on one trip during the filming.

“To see things through her eyes and see how in her lifetime, China has changed and what she’s observed about it was fascinating,” Knowlton said. “Going back to Kunming, where she was from, and for her to say ‘oh wow, it is so built up. This wasn’t old China. It isn’t the China that I remember.’”

Haley helps keep connected to China through a charitable organization her family set up, which helps children who are still in orphanages by providing medicines and other supplies, Knowlton said. Yet Haley also has a uniquely American dream. Hers is to be the first Chinese-American to perform in the Grand Ole Opry, a weekly country music stage event in Nashville.

The filmmaker said exact numbers of orphans in China today are hard to come by, but she did say there are orphanages, better known as social welfare institutes, all across the country.

“They are not always talked about,” she said. "Some of them have got much more public attention because they are now where elderly people are living. They are like old age homes a little bit. They have also turned some of them into schools for some of the older kids that aren’t being adopted.”

Despite the numbers, Knowlton said adoption is harder than it was just a few years ago.

“There is now a much longer wait,” she said. “For my husband and I, from the day we filled out our paperwork until the day we held our daughter in our arms, it was fourteen months. Now people waiting about four or five years for a healthy child.”

Knowlton said there are two main factors driving this trend. First is the rise of the middle class, which means more people can afford the fines for having a second child. Second is that China is trying to promote in-country adoption.

“All countries would prefer to have their children to stay in their country,” she said. “I guess they’ve been working toward making that work.”

“Somewhere Between” has garnered many positive reviews.

“I’ve had Caucasian men come up to me after a screening and say ‘I’m not adopted, and my children aren’t, and I’m clearly not Asian or a girl, this film is my story,’” she said. “I’ve had a range of people say to me either the first or second generation immigrants say this is my story.”

At a recent screening in Kunming, China, Knowlton said one young man said afterward that he, too, felt “in between” because he comes from a rural area but had to go to the city for an education and to make money. 

“I wanted to make this film for a universal broad audience because we are all somewhere between at different points in our lives,” Knowlton said. “The themes of family and belonging and identity, to me, are the most universal themes possible.”

Jenna adds at one point in the film, “I don’t think I could consider myself fully Chinese or fully American. No matter where I am in my life, I’m always going to be sort of somewhere in between.”


You May Like

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Holly from: Canada
October 02, 2012 1:09 PM
I think objectively the girls are sooo lucky to be adopted by someone who care and love them more than their birth parents, or were able to care and love them more than their birth parents. They can accomplish much more and are treated much better than in China. Of course my utmost respects go to the adopting parents for their biggest heart and love. I was never in the adopting process (aka, raised by my biological parents and raising my own kid), and I can't imagine what it takes to raise other people's kids and also help them seek the identities. There should be a film/documentary about the adopting parents.

by: JK from: Viet Nam
September 22, 2012 5:41 AM
The Chinese Americans are actually doing a great deal in the contribution for the development of the US. We share with them their sentiment in the status of being somwhere between. Because not only in the US, but many countries in this world, they do the same. Love you all, the generations that were, are and never will not be forgotten.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs