Adoption Stories from Adopted the Movie - A Feature Film by Barb Lee

January 7, 2008

Stories About Home, by Leonie Simmons

Leonie Simmons was born in Vietnam and adopted to an Australian family. Five years ago she returned to the place of her birth. This thoughtful and carefully written paper describes her journey and her efforts to deconstruct taken-for-granted ideas about culture, identity, family and home. It will be of relevance to anyone interested in ways of making home and making family as well as to those connected to the issue of intercountry adoption.

This is a story about my life. It is a story about identity, culture, belonging and families. To me, for the most part it is a story about Home. Making one, finding more, leaving many and taking them with you when you go.

I was born in Vietnam, during a time of war, and then adopted to an Australian family. Five years ago, I returned to the place of my birth. It has taken until now to be able to find the words, write them down and and speak of the experience. In the intervening years, I decided to hide away the events of my visit to my birth place. I wanted them kept safe from analytical tinkering, uninvited interference, wacky conclusions or undisciplined thoughts. Let the past be done with, I declared. I concluded that there were more important things to attend to, to think and speak about. And I was right.

But during this time, when I was keeping the stories of Vietnam at a distance, I was also experiencing a disconnection in relating with other people. I would have the occasional meetings and I was competent, I thought, at listening, but I could not answer questions. Simple, easy, demographic questions regarding my life began to take avery long time to answer and when I did manage to reply, I stuttered and mumbled incoherently. Questions like: What is your name? Where do you come from? Where do you live? Where is your home? Where were you born? Embedded within these enquiries is a request to disclose what nationality you are, what country is your country, what language do you speak. Other questions would inevitably follow: Who are you parents? How many brothers and sisters do you have? What is your profession? Are you single, married, divorced? These seemingly simple questions are routinely asked in conversation or on forms with little boxes to indicate which simple category you belong within. Those little spaces imply that the answers to those questions are to be easy and brief. But that is not possible for all of us. Anticipating the inevitable sense of awkwardness that would accompany these sorts of questions led me me to avoid talking to people as much as possible.

ed what my Vietnamese family had intended or thought about when choosing this name for me. Feeling that I had been granted a name representative of a particular meaning, image or metaphor, evoked a soft appreciation for the people responsible and a new sense of substance began to surround my anonymous biological parentage. It was around the time I learnt the meaning of my Vietnamese name, that I began a journey on which I would meet the ‘I’ that I may have been, an ‘I’ whom I definitely wasnot, and more importantly the ‘I’ that I could possibly become.

WHY VIETNAM?
In 2002, I traveled to Vietnam to visit my country of birth and to see Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, where my life began. I had always presumed that when the time was right, I would one day return. There were times in my life when I did not think much about going back to Vietnam. I had phases when I assumed a revisit would be an exciting adventure to pursue. And then, sometimes exploring the unknown felt a little daunting. For the most part though, there were simply other concerns, projects and life happenings to be focusing on. It was only a matter of when the ‘right time’ would arise, Vietnam wasn’t going anywhere.

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