The Adoption Series: Part 1 - Identity
On the 10th December 1990, I arrived from an orphanage in India to my new Australian family. To mark the 30th anniversary of my adoption, I’ve written a series of three articles, each one covering a different concept related to adoption. Authentic leadership is understanding where you’ve come from and where you’re going. I invite you on to this journey with me and hope it gives you food for thought on the paths you trod to get here, and the trails you’ll blaze as you move into tomorrow.
I wasn’t like the others. I wasn’t like the rest of my family. I was bright-eyed, small, chocolate-coated, fuzzy-haired. While they were creamy-skinned, tall, fair. And yet I knew that I belonged. As children we are always looking for those cues that tell us that we belong. And within my family I belonged. There was no difference. When you are adopted as a baby from another country overseas and you look vastly different to your family - it’s clear. There is no hiding.
But what happens instead is that you are told a truth, you know it to be “truth”. The fact that you were born in another country, the fact that you look different to everybody else within your family, becomes reality. You don’t question it. Where it starts to unravel is when you go out into the big, wide world. Because from the outside looking in, no - you are not the same.
Being adopted is part of having an identity. It is part of who you are. And as a kid, maybe it doesn’t matter so much. But when you start to move into adolescence, teenage years, and then into adulthood, it becomes a question. A riddle you must ask yourself and must solve.
Perhaps it’s different for people who have the culture, who have grown up with friends or family around who are able to embed and instil some of that. But you know what? People always ask me, they always ask me: “You know, do you want to go back? Do you speak Indian? Does your mum cook curries?” And I’m like “No... bangers and mash actually!”
And it’s ok for people to ask those questions, but then they feel more uncomfortable than I do! And so the question of identity really started to come up in adolescence where people started to “place” me more. They wanted to fit me into a box that they could understand and know. But the problem with that is that it was a paradigm they couldn’t understand.
So part of my identity was to rebel against that. I actively took steps to avoid “looking Indian”. So it was left as a question mark in other people’s heads. They couldn’t quite fit me in that box. They couldn’t quite place me because there were no cues in hair style, in language, in accent, in clothing, in topics of conversation. There were no cues that could point me to a heritage that made sense to them.
And what it meant for me was that I could be so unique - because I wasn’t “white Australian”, and I wasn’t “Indian”. And so what was I? I was able to make up for myself what I was.
But that didn’t come from a place of acceptance. Instead, it came from a place of rejection. From not wanting to be what I was born into (and a big factor was also due to the appalling gender inequality in India!!). And so it’s funny now to be watching these films like Lion, or reading these autobiographies of people like Latika Bourke who have been adopted. Because as I’m nearing the 30th anniversary of my adoption… it becomes more real.
Something happens where the past is no longer something to run from, it just simply is. And we start to think about the lives we might have had had we not been “saved”. We start to explore who we are, where we came from. Because we care more about where it is that we are going.
And so, identity is fluid. It’s not set in stone. And the way that you think about yourself, who you are, what you’ve been through and also where you’re going, is completely up to you.
You carve your own path, in leadership and in life.
Lata Hamilton is the Founder & CEO of Passion Pioneers, offering Executive Coaching and Change Leadership Training. Sign up to the Change Inspiration mailing list here to get weekly goodies such as articles, templates, tools, videos and upcoming courses direct to your inbox.