The first time I read American author Matthew Salesses’ experience as an adoptee, I was blown away not just by his way with words, but also by this burning frankness that I never get from reading the “self-help” kind of adoption literature (even those that interview adult adoptees).
Matthew was adopted from Korea at the age of two. After reading a couple more of his wonderfully thoughtful (and sometimes, emotionally hard-hitting) essays, I e-mailed him last year asking if I could feature him on this blog. Even though he is on a whirlwind book tour for his first novel, he said he would definitely get back to me at some point because he was “happy to do anything that can help people in the adoption triad”.
He finally did a few days ago. His answers have made me realise that there are many more adoption perspectives I have not considered, and strangely links to a realisation I had while writing the 5th Squirky book (which I’ll be talking more about in the next post). But for now, here’s Matthew:
Could you tell us briefly what it was like growing up in a transracial adoptive family?
I’m not sure it can be told briefly. I’ve written various essays about it, but none of them have captured the full complexity. It’s very complicated. There’s this essay I like on racial melancholia and Asian American literature, about the inability to get over the thing you are mourning because you never really possessed it. That’s one way to describe it.
Have you contacted/searched for your birth family? Why or why not?
I have never searched for my birth family in the way you need to if you want to find your birth family. When I was younger, I didn’t know enough about how to search, and how many lies people are told, and now (or so I tell myself at least) I don’t have time. I never wanted to upset my adoptive parents, either.
What would you say to adoptive parents who want to help their children find out more about his/her parents but their children show no interest?
I would say that there are a lot of potential traps there. Again, I never wanted to upset my parents, to make them feel betrayed or whatever. They never brought up searching, which made it feel like it would be a betrayal if I did. If they had pushed it, though, I suspect I would have felt (at least at first) like they were pushing me away or highlighting my difference, or testing me, and I would have refused because that would have seemed like the best way for me to tell them I love them.
There was also the fact that I didn’t want to be seen as different and didn’t want my parents to feel the pain of difference that I always felt. The adoptee is always saving the adoptive parents. So what I would say is that “show no interest” doesn’t mean “not interested.” I think it would have helped if I had felt that the option was available, that I finally had a choice in the matter. I, and I suspect other adoptees, needed to be able to come to things in my own time, on my own terms. My own time and terms were constantly things denied me.
Do also check out his novel The Hundred-Year Flood, which has picked up a bunch of accolades such as A Millions Most Anticipated Book of 2015, A Buzzfeed Pick for 17 Awesome New Books You Need to Read This Fall, A Refinery29 Pick for Best Summer Reading and A Gawker Review of Books Pick for 9 Must-Reads for the Fall.