Gender & Identity, Life

I still feel Russian, even though I was adopted

It’s unnerving sometimes to think that the blood in my veins comes from another continent, and the first words that I heard were not English.

I’m forever grateful that my parents have always been open with me about the fact that I was adopted, sparing me the novel-worthy drama of discovery and betrayal later. For the most part, the fact that my parents are not my birth parents doesn’t bother me. It’s not something I think about all that often, because I feel that everything I’ve ever needed in a family I’ve had here in the States. But there are some interesting cultural implications that spring from the fact that I was adopted from Russia, and not within the United States, where I’ve lived since I was six months old.

From the very beginning my parents made sure that I knew and was proud of the fact that I was from Russia. They decorated my shelves with the dolls and toys they had brought back when they went to get me, and bought me books about Russian culture. They were always willing to talk about what it meant to be from another country. But they were also Americans with little knowledge of Russian culture other than what they had observed when they were there.

Emotionally this led to a strange inner divide. I had been raised as an American all my life, but also raised with the knowledge that I was somehow from another culture as well. It’s unnerving sometimes to think that the blood in my veins comes from another continent, and the first words that I heard were not English. But I cannot claim to be anything other than American, because this is the dominant culture I have lived in and absorbed.

I can’t say I have divided loyalties because I am proud to be an American, and grateful for the many opportunities I have gained by living here. But I also can’t help but feel a strange connection and kinship whenever we talk about Russia in history classes, or it comes up in the news, or I hear from someone who is from Russia. Sometimes when I hear of other people studying the Russian language or culture I feel guilty, as if this is something that I should be studying. The good news is that these things will always be there for me to study.

It’s also interesting and somewhat difficult politically to be from these two nations. I want to be proud of the place where I was born. But there are diplomatic tensions between the US and Russia, and issues such as Russia’s treatment of LGBTQ citizens that sometimes make it difficult to identify with or agree with being Russian. But it’s part of who I am.

If they have an open adoption and the identifying information for their parents every adoptee faces the question of whether to contact their birth parents. So far I have never tried to contact my birth family, but I can imagine doing so one day in the future when I feel like I am in a stable place in my life. There are also complications and practical concerns that I realize I will have to deal with if I decide that I want to meet my birth family. I don’t speak the Russian language, which means that I would either have to rely on an interpreter to communicate with my birth family, or learn the language myself. Learning Russian would be one way to learn about the culture that I never learned about before. But it would also require a lot of effort.

If I were to meet my birth parents I have a few social concerns. What if I decide to go back and see my birth family, only to not be able to connect at all because we’ve had radically different lifestyles and cultures? I’d like to think that I would always be recognized on some level as family, but sometimes I still wonder how deep a connection we could hope to have.

If I ever get too worried, I try to keep a perspective on the issues. These issues are by no means life-threatening, and I’m lucky to have the resources at my disposal to explore my heritage further, either through learning or by traveling to Russia one day.