As a transracial adoptee, Naomi Sumner has always felt something is missing. She writes about battling ‘the’ questions and the show formed through her experiences.
I was the only non-White child in my class when I started school. My Mum remembers me saying around that time on quite a few occasions that I wanted “yellow hair.” At school a few of the other children would make comments about my nose being really flat and they’d push their noses down and squint their eyes and say to me, “This is what you look like.” When I think about it now, me saying I wanted yellow hair is me actually wanting to be white, to be blonde, to be like everyone else.
Extract from SAME SAME DIFFERENT
It was never meant to be about me. When I first started making SAME SAME DIFFERENT, I wanted to share other people’s adoption stories rather than my own. My play includes the voices of over 20 adoptees from all over the world, sharing what it was like to grow up in a family or community who didn’t look like them. I asked them if they thought nature or nurture most influences a person’s character and identity? This was a question that had been on my mind quite a lot over the previous few years.
What makes you, YOU?
There is another question people of colour living in the UK are used to being asked by strangers: “Where are you from?” I was asked this question TWICE on my wedding day, perhaps a result of choosing to wear a red cheong-sam rather than a white princess dress! For those born and raised in Britain this can be a frustrating question, to be “other” and “exotic” when the answer is quite simply, “Here!” For others, including myself, the answer is more complex.
I was born Siu Yu Chan at Princess Margaret Hospital, Kowloon, Hong Kong and a year later, I was adopted by a White British couple and given a new name, becoming a transracial adoptee – a child who’s adopted into a family whose ethnicity is different to their own. So obviously I look VERY different to my family, but I also FEEL different in terms of my character, personality and interests. I’ve often felt distanced from my other family members and I wondered if this was a common experience for those who’ve been adopted, particularly from abroad.
Due to various political and historical events e.g. the wars in Korea and Vietnam or China’s one child policy, East Asian countries have historically been amongst the biggest ‘sending’ countries when it comes to inter-country adoption. Large numbers of children, particularly girls, have been adopted from East Asia to countries such as the U.K., America, Australia and The Netherlands. There are a global group of East Asians who have had no choice in being removed from their country of birth, losing not only their first families but language and cultural practices connecting them to their birth place. For those like myself there is a double disconnect, we are not able to identify as being fully Chinese and are unable to fully share the identity of our adoptive families.
So where do we belong?
Following the huge success of films like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians the conversation around representation, the importance of racial mirrors and ‘seeing yourself’ has gone mainstream. However, for many transracial adoptees these mirrors don’t exist in their family or geographical community.
We are everywhere and nowhere all at the same time.
When I first started making SAME SAME DIFFERENT I was working completely independently and self-funding the project. However, in 2017 I was awarded one of Eclipse Theatre’s ‘MAKE’ commissions via their Slate programme which supports artists of colour to make new work and provides workshops and training opportunities. The commission allowed me to collaborate with a larger team to take the piece forward to full production and one of the people I brought on board was dramaturg and verbatim expert, Philip Osment. After reading an early draft, Philip felt the piece lacked focus and had fallen victim to a common mistake made by those inexperienced in making verbatim work with the play just having a series of ‘interesting’ quotes when what we needed was a STORY. Philip, alongside the other co-commissioners encouraged me to include some of my own adoption experience and SAME SAME DIFFERENT became the story of NAOMI looking for her reflection. A director involved in the R&D process said the most brilliant thing which has really stuck with me: “Vampires don’t have reflections, to deny someone a reflection is to villainise them.” Did I find my reflection? You’ll have to wait and see!
SAME SAME DIFFERENT is touring venues across the North of England April 26 and May 15. For further information and to book tickets, visit the Brush Stroke Order website.