Michelle, from North Hollywood, California, is an Asian American, but her specific heritage is unclear, and she doesn’t think she’ll ever fully know where she comes from. There’s no information about her in the year before her adoption, only a note that says “This baby was found…” Michele describes her feelings about being adopted by Asian parents, her lack of a specific birth date, and her creative outlets that keep her going instead of searching. This is Michelle’s journey.
Yeah. All I can think about is that I was abandoned. And by going back, it just opens up a can of worms. I might, if I end up contacting them, what if they need something from me? And I don't want to do that. You know, I just, I just want to say, hi, Hey, I'm here. That's all I'd want to do.
Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I
Who Am I, this is who am I really a podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members. I'm Damon Davis. And today you're going to meet Michelle who called me from North Hollywood, California, she's Asian American, but her specific heritage is unclear. And she doesn't think she'll ever fully know where she comes from. There's no information about her in the year before her adoption. Michelle describes her feelings about being adopted by Asian parents, for lack of a specific birth date and her creative outlets that keep her going instead of searching. This is Michelle's journey.
Michelle starts off with a quick touch on the uncertainty of her heritage and talks about the comfort she felt in her family.
I felt pretty lucky. I was so I'm. I think I'm Chinese. I don't really know I was adopted by Japanese Americans when I was 14 months and it was a video game family. And so my dad traveled a lot. He was in the video game business. He traveled a lot. And so I got to experience different communities of people growing up all the time with Asian parents to go home to. And I felt pretty safe growing up. You know what I mean?
Michelle said she was lucky to travel with her father who was a computer programmer for a variety of video companies, because she got exposed to so many different kinds of people. Of course, all of that traveling made it hard to keep close friends. We took a moment to go back to Michelle's comment about the fact that she thinks she's Chinese. I asked her to explain what she meant.
I was found in China with only a note. I don't know who wrote it. I don't know if it was the orphanage. I don't know whoever left me there off the doorstep or in a trashcan. I have no idea, but it says this baby was found August 28, 1995. That's literally all I have of my existence. I have nothing else. And it's blowing my mind right now, but yeah, I don't know. There's, there's nothing for me to go back to as much as I want to. I don't know what kind of can of worms I'd be opening. I don't know if they were alive. The people who birthed me, my birth parents, I don't know if they'd even want to see me. I have no idea.
Michelle's parents are both Japanese. She considers herself to be super lucky to have been adopted by them because they are also Asian like herself. Her parents moved to the USA when they were children, when they met and got married, they were unable to conceive. So they went to China, to an orphanage in search of a child to become part of their family. Back in the United States, her father was into video game programming. And as Michelle alluded to, they were fairly transit for his job. She said she never stayed in one place for more than about two years. At one point, the family stayed in Arizona for 10 years and Michelle was able to forge some stronger bonds. During that time, Michelle elaborated on how fortunate she was to be an Asian adoptee with Asian parents. Then she expounded on how it feels to some people to be Asian in America.
The thing was like I said, I was really lucky because I'm Asian and a lot of adoptees who are Chinese are adopted into white families. So they have that they have that,uthat barrier that they can't communicate with their parents. They don't understand them. Ubut my parents are Asian. And so I never had that. I never, you know, went out to a restaurant with my parents and people would look at us and they would go like. So you're adopted. Right. You know, we're all Asian. So I got really lucky and like, I never had the concept of adoption brought up as often, only in school, you know, when people would be like, so,uyou know, your parents, what are they like? Or, you know, you know, basic things like that. But I thought I'm just pretty happy. I had a pretty good childhood growing up.
I got bullied a little bit. When I brought Japanese food to school, it would be like "ew what is that"uh
But my parents were pretty Americans still. And so I didn't get that bullied as a kid. I tried everything not to be Asian. I tried every stupid thing. And to this day, if I, you know, if I use terrible grammar, if I sound blah, blah, blah, I like judge myself because I don't want to sound foreign. Cause once you sound foreign, then you feel like you're not accepted in society, especially American society. For Asian women we always have this thing in the back of our head, Asian American women too, that we have to marry into a white family, but we have to, you know, I mean, and it sounds terrible. It sounds awful, but it's, it's part of the American dream, if that makes sense. And I think that because of our media, I think that's because of lot of things, but it's disgusting to me. Yeah. I believe that really affects who we are while we're growing up.
Yeah, I can imagine. And I heard something where I was listening to a podcast one time and they were talking about the red lines on a map where you can, you're less likely to get a home loan if you're black, if you live within these red lines. But this one black female basically said, you know, I had an Asian friend who was my roommate or whatever the story was. Basically she knew an Asian woman who was within the red lines and she got a loan. But it was because she was basically seen as for lack of better words, white adjacent, right? Like, eh, she's close enough. You know what I mean, as a really interesting thing about race in America is fascinating. So,
Oh, it's even weirder in the community as well.
How do you mean?
Like a it's because I was, I'm more American than most Chinese people. If you're in a group of really Chinese people, then you don't feel like you belong number one because you don't speak their language. And number two, because you're just not, they just label you as not Chinese enough, not Asian enough. And so you're like toggle between this area where like, what am I am I like, I grew up thinking I was white when I was a kid. It was weird. I didn't know who to belong to.
Right. You are othered in America, which is predominantly white. And then you're othered in your native cultures or folks from your continent because you're too close to white because you're an American and not as ethnic as they.
Wow. So tell me a little bit about your childhood and teenage years, because, so when did you learn that you were picked up as a baby with a note on her? And I guess what I'm ultimately trying to get to is, was there ever a time when you were thinking to yourself, you know, I should go find those people sort of before the reality of how challenging a search in Asia would be for a child who had a note on her. Was there a time when you were like, you know, I want to know who my birth parents are,
You know, now that you say that, no, I I found out when I was in college first year college, you know, around your friends and you're smoking a lot of weed and one of my friends was like, Hey, let's talk about astrology. I'm like that is dumb. She's like, no, there's a whole birth chart. You have to know your age. Your you have to know the day, the time and the place. I said, okay. And then I thought, alright, February 28th, 95. I don't know. I think I know the place. I don't know the time. So I called my mom and she's like, Oh yeah, we don't actually know your birthday. We dont know anything. Wow. We just have a note, but I was like, what?
And I don't know, because I had such a good childhood. I know it's not every, you know, not every childhood's rosey, but mine was so good. Like my dad was out of the picture for a little bit, cause he was busy. I used to like, he used to fly a lot for his job. I used to think he lived at the airport, but, but other than that, like my childhood was pretty good. Not gonna lie. I had a really good childhood growing up. They, they were really nice and they let me explore my creative juices and let me go on a creative path, which I couldn't be more thankful for. So personally I would not and have never thought of looking for my birth parents because it's such a challenging job. And because I don't, I don't have that hole to fill. I have a, yeah. I have like some spiritual thing that I'm looking for, but that won't be that won't be, you know, discovered through finding my birth parents. And that's just me. Everyone has their own journey.
Michelle said, even if she did want to search at all, she doesn't even know how to go about doing so many. Adoptees returned to the adoption agency where they were adopted through. But even if Michelle sought their help, there aren't any clues about where they would even start a search. Remember, all Michelle has to go on is a note.
This baby was found August 28, 1995. That's literally, all I have is my existence. I have nothing else.
She said she has wondered if she has siblings.
Yeah. I've thought about siblings, but there was a group of us or my parents went with a group of people to adopt, adopt children at the same time. And so we stuck around a little bit and we had one or two like big outings. We called it the China group where, you know, a bunch of us were adopted together. And then we went out and so we had a pool party. I remember that. I don't remember what year, maybe 2003, but one or two of them could have been one of my siblings. And that's all I don't really know
Of the group of children adopted from China. Michelle was among the oldest. Sadly the oldest child who was adopted by another family died of cancer at the age of 18. Michelle said that the group of families tried to stick together. But as with so many relationships, their ties have faded. She talks About her feelings about search reunion and her fears about a return to China. One day,
All I can think about is that I was abandoned. And by going back, it, it just opens up a can of worms. I might, if I ended up contacting them, what if they need something from me? And I don't want to do that. You know, I just, I just want to say hi, Hey, I'm here. That's, that's all I'd want to do.
Yeah. That's a, that's a common feeling for a lot of people is just to say, you know, you put me on the world. I just wanted to let you know, I'm still here. Like making it, you know, the mean don't want anything from et cetera, but yeah, just wanting to see your face and I'm out. You you said I can only, the only thing I can think of is I was abandoned. Did that, does that anger? You do. Does it come up from time to time? I'm just curious. I'm not, I'm not intentionally prodding to make you angry. I'm, I'm curious to know
It's not, it doesn't make me angry. It makes me just want to disassociate myself with China and every aspect. And it's not that I'm mad. I'm just, I just don't want to deal with that. Yeah.
I hear you. Right. Of all the things you got to think about.
Yeah. There I don't want to go back and say, and then for whatever reason, if I meet them, they say like, yeah, I don't want to see you. And I get abandoned the second time. You know what I mean? That's what I'm scared of.
Sure. Yeah. Yeah. For sure. I interviewed another Asian woman adoptee and she expressed some of the same things that you're talking about and fear of, you know, the idea that you would be abandoned. And then the fear that would come from making this Trek all the way over there and then not being accepted yet again is like, you know, there's secondary rejection in the United States and then their secondary rejection, you know, when you have traveled internationally to find someone who, you know, you don't even share a language with and then to have them say, I'm not interested. You know what I mean? For some reason it feels like it's an, an additional layer of rejection to me. I don't, I guess, any rejections, any rejection, but
Exactly. And part of me just doesn't want to deal with that at some point I might have to, but I don't see a reason and it frustrates me because I feel like I should go back and say, thank you to someone. I don't know why. I don't know who, I don't know if they would accept it. I don't know what I would say.
Yeah. And it's also, I can't help thinking about what you said about the frustration over the thing just makes you want to disassociate from the whole country,
Yeah. And that frustrates me that I, I think that way as well, because I want it, you know, cause the goal is to embrace who you are as a person, right?
Michelle is the host of a podcast called "ERROR 404 Birthday Not Found". I had the good fortune of being her guest for episode 16. I asked her about the podcast and her outlets for expressing herself creatively about adoption or whatever is going on in her life.
I actually have four, four outlets. So the podcast is one it's called error 404 birthday not found like when you're clicking on something and it's not working. And that's me trying to find my birthday because I don't have one. I just have the one they gave me. And it's just where I interview people about what it means to have a birthday because a lot of people take it for granted. A lot of people like it, a lot of people don't like it. And I just, I just want to see what people think of it. It's just really interesting to me. The second thing is acting, acting is everything to me. I love it. It's just very cathartic. It's telling stories and making people laugh so much fun. So that's, that's kind of what I'm doing mostly with my life is trying to be an actor.
The other thing is stand up comedy. That's hard. I hate it. But I also like it. Not a big fan of it. It's so hard, just you and it's a room of people and it's all your jokes and all your own acting and everyone's judging and it's fun, but it's, I haven't broken past that barrier. So I'm struggling with that. That's fun. All right. It's hard. I hate it. And then and then the fourth thing is food blogging. I LA is one of the most diverse country cities in the country, in the world with food. And I try to explore every single neighborhood and try to find out what dishes were traditionally made in which culture, and try to preserve some culture while I'm out here and also try to figure out my ethnicity through food. So I'm trying to do all that at one time.
That's really funny. Have you found foods that you really identify with where you're like, Ooh, I might be Peruvian. You know what I mean?
Yeah. Or yeah. What's that called? Blacklist. I am not Asian. I'm a Israeli. I love, I love Israeli food. Like the hummus and the falafel, the shawarma. I love the Moroccan, Israeli Moroccan. Food's really good as well. You get the pickled beets and you get the, it it's so good. I don't, I don't know what it is. Maybe it's because I grew up with Japanese American food and I want to get away of it, you know, as far away as I can or it's just, I don't know, maybe just have a taste for it. And I have no idea why,
Since we're both podcasters and Michelle's a person with a podcast about birthdays, but she doesn't actually know her birthday. I wondered what she hears from other guests about what their birthdays mean to them.
You know, it's pretty sad, a lot of people don't like their birthday and a lot of people they're just like, Oh, it's just another day. I didn't succeed in what I wanted to do. And, and then I have a couple of friends who were just like, wow, you know, it's a day that's mine, you know, life's hard, life's a struggle, but you know what, one day I can celebrate that. I know I'm alive in this little speck in the middle of the universe. And I'm like, I love that because I don't have one. I guess there's, there's, there's not really a trend. It's just everyone celebrates it differently. I guess the trend is, people are afraid to say that they don't celebrate it. And I think that's fine. I think that's totally fine. If you take the day to yourself and you just do nothing, you don't have to go big, you just sit at home, do whatever you want to do, you know, color, watch Netflix or whatever, whatever you want to do. I think it's just the day to be you, you know? Yeah,
Yeah. I'm with you a hundred percent. I think if you're the type of person who loves to celebrate it, you know, this is the day I came to this planet and you know, I am here, go for it. And other people are just like meh just another day. And, and then there are those folks who are on the opposite end of that celebratory scale, where they're just like, as you said, crap, another year just went by and it can be really challenging when you, you have this, it's like mile markers on a road. You know, if you're dying to get to your destination, you can't wait for those mile markers to go by fast enough. But when you want to, you know, sort of enjoy the ride, sometimes those mile markers are going by too fast and you wish you could slow down or whatever the, the, you know, appropriate analogy is for this. But yeah, you're right they can be really, really emotional from year to year.
I think, I think, yeah, exactly. I think I even judged them a little too much myself. Like I feel like it should be something special and a lot of people are like, eh, just another day. And I think I should just accept that as like, Hey, that's just how they do it. They just don't celebrate it.
Yeah. It's a funny thing. I was going to ask you that if what your own take is as a person who doesn't have a definitive birthday would in your own position is if you had one, which where would you fall on the spectrum of celebration to total depression? Right?
I actually did do I do celebrate my birthday and I don't think I'd change it. I just want to know the answer. You know what I mean? I just want to know, but I, I just celebrated with family and I usually eat sometimes it's the Oscars that night. And so, you know, we go to a nice restaurant and we'd do something that day, like go to a museum or it's usually around spring break. So I have that day off, you know, I finished finals, I'm ready to relax. And so I'd hang out with family and then go to a nice dinner and then watch the Oscars. You know, that would be my ideal birthday, I guess, as a kid looking back. Yeah. That's how I celebrated some I'm not as bitter. I know things go wrong. I've cried a lot on my birthdays. Things have gone wrong a lot of the time, but I still hold it as a special day that it's like, Hey, I'm alive. Do something that makes me feel good. Take yourself to a nice restaurant, do something nice. So yeah, I make it special and it doesn't have to be for other people, but I do personally.
That's really cool. I wanted to go back to Michelle's standup comedy routine since she doesn't have a specific birth date, but she feels lucky to have had the family that she does. I wanted to know how her life experiences influence her act. And I invited her to share a joke or two,
My jokes are really dark. I don't even think I can share them with you, Brad Pitt joke. And I have a way what used to be a Woody Allen joke. I really want to explore that most of my humor issues dark. Like if you watch BoJack kind of that dark eye and that's how it is. So I don't know. I like to play around with that dark humor cause it's just fun. But it's most of my jokes are adoption jokes. I can't think of any birthday jokes. It's very hard. I've tried to make, you know, astrology jokes, but when someone brings up astrology, even in, even in Los Angeles, the most liberal... People just look at you differently, they look at you like you have a lower intelligence. And I feel like that's, that's pretty wrong. You know, in our society that we look upon people who believe in something such as religion or astrology I'm, I'm like ranting, but yeah.
None of my jokes, I can't think of any queen jokes. I have a lot of dark humor. It's pretty fun. It's just hard to, I just hate stand up because it's, it's hard to predict. It's hard to practice it because you have to go to these open mics. And all the people who are at open minds are, are comedians themselves. And they don't laugh at your jokes. They're just there to work on their own jokes. So it's like, what are you even practicing for? You have to pay for, for every single open mic to pay $5 at the door. And it's like, God, I'm not made of money. I can't do this. So personally stand up is not a very sustainable career for me. It's fun because I have the jokes, but honestly I make jokes on Instagram, like through the story, I'm a very visual person. So like I take a picture of something, then I make a caption and I make a joke out of that. I'd rather do that. I don't know how to market that yet. I don't know where, how, what I need to do that because standup is too harsh.
Yeah. Yeah. And it's an internet culture. So there's certainly something there for when you're, you know, quippy, dark humor starts to really take old.
Right. Do you, do you ever, have you ever tried to stand up for herself?
I haven't done stand up. I took improv classes. I know it's not the same, but you know, it's, it's similar in its ability to push you out of your comfort zone and sort of keep you on your toes. You know, I, I always tell people, you should definitely take an improv class because it translates into other parts of your life. And I may have said that on, excuse me, on your show where you know, the fact that you get this, you get this when you're standing there on stage or in the class and you're supposed to respond to what someone else is going to say, you think to yourself, Oh, I know what he's going to say. And then they say something totally different. And then you're like, shit, I got to change my answer. And it teaches you to be really malleable in your thinking and really, you know, really flexible and agile so that you can so that you can be a strong responder yet really present. Exactly. And that
I haven't grasped that yet because I'm too scared to go up there. Even though I have a show in two weeks, I'm terrified, but you memorize, you write your own jokes, you put it in like your ducks in a line and then you go up on stage and you adapt. If the audience isn't liking it, or if the audience is offended by that, or, you know what I mean? Or if they like it a lot, then you add on to that joke. That's the hard part can memorize a monologue. But being able to adapt that monologue when you're up there, that's the hard part. It's fun for a lot of people. I'd rather just take someone else's words. I like acting because you take someone else's words, you interpret them, and then you collaborate with the people around you. You have a, you know, another actor to bounce off ideas with and live in the moment. It's just more fun for me.
Yeah. Well, let me ask you, going back to your parents and your adoption, what kinds of conversations have you had them about your feelings of, you know, dissociation, how thankful you are for them as parents? Cause you've said you had it great. Like just tell me a little bit about the conversation with your parents about who you are and how things frame in your mind.
Well, like I said, they were just so, so nice to me. They let me do whatever they let me try things. They kind of forced me into martial arts and I kind of forced me into piano and I got kind of upset because I was like, I don't want to be so Asian, but I ended up being super Asian in the process. I have two black belts, two black belts, so Asian. So I had talked to them and I was like, you know what? I really don't want to do this. Yes. It's good to be a woman who can defend yourself. It's also like I need a social life. I was a kid in middle school doing martial arts and you know, no one really wants to hang out with you if you're that quirky, I guess, or I don't know. I played the piano and now to this day, you know, I still know how to play the piano. You see a piano and I like, I have to play it. I just have this urge in me.
Cause so many people, so many people wish they could and they'll walk right up to a piano and look at all the keys and be there in wonderment with zero idea how to put it together, zero. So that's something
And I know how to play an instrument. That's pretty cool. And I know how to defend myself if, if anything should happen. But yeah, we did. We had some discussions about being adopted. Like I said, I was pretty lucky because it didn't come off, come up as often because they look Asian because I'm Asian. My brother who was adopted from Cambodia looks Asian. We didn't have that issue where it's like your adopted. You're adopted, you're outside, you're an outsider. So I felt, I felt like I felt part of the family
Focusing on Michelle's brother. I asked about his position on search and reunion. I thought perhaps since she's older, her feeling that a search was few tile might have trickled down to him and he might feel the same way since he's from Cambodia. I asked her how they talked about searching reunion. Here's what she said.
You know, we don't get along and it's a shame and he he's a couple of years younger than me. He's 21 and we don't get along. And that's really what frustrates me. And that's kind of the, the, the shitty part is that we don't get along. And I don't really know anything that's going on with him.
How come you don't get along? Is it a specific situation or is it not sure?
It's just, you know, like, I think it's just a sibling thing. Like when you go, when you watch TV as a kid, you, you think that everything's like friends, you know, like people get along and siblings are always together. They always have their own, their backs and it's not always like that. And I learned that the hard way. And it's just, maybe I, maybe he hates me. I don't know, are I have no idea. I had a lot of girl cousins growing up and I would hang out with them when, you know, when they would come over and he would get excluded and left out. And maybe the attitude, because he was adopted, he felt abandoned and he felt abandoned and a second time. And so we just don't talk. I haven't talked to him in like a year.
I don't know. Barely knew he was 21 from my parents. I don't have a phone number. I'm not friends with them on Facebook. It's weird. That's crazy. That's, that's the issue. That's the only problem with my childhood, I guess, is just not having a sibling. He was right there.
Yeah. It was always like that. You guys were just never, ever close.
I mean, when we were young, young, we would play video games together. But once, once I went to middle school, then we just drifted and then I went to college and then we never talked. I feel like it's really sad because we're the only two adopted our parents are older. And so we should get along. I always feel like we should get along because we're all we got. We're alone in this world. You know, you got your family and you got your friends and your friends sometimes change and your family never changes. So
Yeah. You know, I as a you've raised something interesting. So my biological mother is deceased. Yeah. I'm an only child. My biological mother's deceased. My adopted father's deceased. My adopted mother is paranoid schizophrenia and therefore not present. And my biological father whom I just met a couple of years ago. He's still alive. We cool. No worries. But I can't help. But think as you talk about your own scenario, there's gonna come a day when your parents need you guys. And I just had this vision of you sort of standing by one of your parent's bed and your brother walks in and you're like, Oh wow, Hey, wow. Like you wouldn't even probably know he was coming right. Or, and it would be so awkward because you haven't even spoken in years. You're not in touch. It just, I guess what I'm getting at is
It makes me so sad because that would, it would probably one of my parents being bedridden would probably bring us together. Exactly. That's what makes me sad. I wish it was now. And I don't know what it is. I don't know how to fix it, but I feel, I thought that because we were adopted that we could be, you know, stronger as well. We have a stronger bond than most siblings. I have no idea, no idea.
Yeah. It's going to be tragic when something happens that forces you guys together and and I could see how that would make you really sad. Cause here I am, I'm an only, and you know, three out of four of my parents are, are for lack of better words, inaccessible. I only use that word because my adopted mother's alive, but she's just not the woman that she was when she raised me. And so I sometimes feel alone. And there's definitely a weird feeling when you, as an adult have lost your parents because they are the people that were with you, your entire life and now suddenly they're gone. And you, it sounds like had a brother who is also gone. And so when that day comes like that's going to be really tough.
Yeah. It is what it is. Right.
Yeah. It's true. It's true. Absolutely. Michelle. Wow. That was really good to talk to you. I, I, I think about you and your show often because you know, for someone to take an on yeah. For someone to have taken on the show, thank you so much for somebody who had taken on like an ownership of the fact that they don't have a birthday and to turn it into a way to talk about birthdays with other people is really fascinating. So I appreciate it. You just like, I've pushed yourself out there to do that. So thank you for having me on your show. Yeah, yeah, no, that's exactly right.
You have to share your experience like what you're doing. You're sharing your experience with other people and trying to get, trying to heal through other people with other people. And I love that. Thank you so much for having me on the podcast.
Of course, Michelle, take care all the best. Great talking to you. You too. Bye bye.
Hey, it's me. Michelle's story is really fascinating from her beginnings in China as an abandoned baby, to her wonderful life with loving parents also of Asian descent, she was given the self confidence to push forward in life from her experiences, meeting tons of different people through her family's business, to the skills she developed in martial arts and the freedom of artistic expression that her parents fostered leading to her podcast, stand up acting and food blogging. As a guy who grew up as an only child, I was sad to hear that Michelle and her brother don't get along, but we can't force relationships when people don't want to reciprocate our love or even mutual respect. Michelle sounds like a really strong woman. Who's going to be just fine, no matter what happens next, you can find Michelle's podcast "Error 404: Birthday Not Found", about the meaning of birthdays, wherever you get your podcasts.
I'm Damon Davis. And I hope you'll find something in Michelle's journey that inspires you, validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learn who am I really, if you would like to share your adoption journey and your attempt to connect with your biological family, please visit who am I really podcast.com/share. You can follow the show at facebook.com/WAIReally, or follow on Twitter at WAIReally. If the show is meaningful to you, you can support me with a contribution to keep it going on. Patrion.Com/WAIReally please subscribe to who am I really on Apple podcasts, Google play, or wherever you get your podcasts. It would mean so much to me. If you took a moment to leave a five star rating there, those ratings can help others to find the podcast too. And if you're interested, you can check out the story of my adoption journey. Who am I really and adopt the memoir on amazon.com on Kindle or as an audio book on audible. I hope you'll add my story to your reading list.