News / USA

New Documentary Explores Chinese-American Adoptees

Haley Butler is one of four Chinese-American adoptees chronicled in the new documentary "Somewhere Between."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 "Somewhere Between."
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

Reports of Mass Murder on Mediterranean Smuggler’s Boat

Boat sailed from Libya with 750 migrants aboard and arrived in Italy with 569 More

Video New Thailand Hotline Targets Misbehaving Monks

Officials say move aims to restore country’s image of Buddhism, tarnished by recent high profile scandals such as opulent lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as child sex abuse More

Study: Dust from Sahara Helped Form Bahama Islands

What does the Sahara have in common with a Caribbean island? Quite a lot, researchers say 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.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid