I found it impossible not to fall in love with Somewhere Between, a documentary about four American teenagers adopted from China.
When it showed at the Portland International Film festival, I went determined to be objective, but I was anxious. Would the film present a melodramatic spin on birthparents or a critical lens on adoptive parents? I half-expected a vague celebration of Chinese culture. Since adopting my first daughter over ten years ago, and getting to know orphanages and adoptees well through efforts and visits at the orphanages in Fuling and Zhanjiang, I’ve worked my way through the spectrum of stories on adoption, often poignant and personal, sometimes painful.
With time, and as I’ve written my own novel on this subject, I’ve reached the point of wanting a story about adoption to stretch to the wider concerns formed by adoptees themselves. My own “tween” daughters from China struggle with questions like: Who am I, really? What happened to me? How do I negotiate the way I joined my family and how I immigrated to America? How can I understand the person I am now without thinking about the one I might have been in China had my birth family kept me?
Suffice it to say by fifteen minutes into the film my eyes started to run. Using a graciously piercing and playful approach, Director Linda Goldstein Knowlton gets at the truth of things. She follows the girls through their daily lives and accomplishments–one is a Southern beauty queen, another a top scholar on the East Coast, another fluent in Chinese and a high school artist in California, the other a self-contained and hilarously outspoken daughter in Pennsylvania.
Finding out who they are will be no simple path, and it will mean confronting the loss of their birth families and birth country in whatever way they can.
The four subjects admit they struggle with how to fit in. Teenagers everywhere work through this, particularly those in mixed race and multi-cultural families, so the documentary resonates with a universal quality. At the same time these questions become specific to each girl. Their journeys and personalities are markedly different. What they share is an awakening the viewer also reaches by the end of the film: Finding out who they are will be no simple path, and it will mean confronting the loss of their birth families and birth country in the way that makes most sense to them.
How far they go for answers even in the year or so span of the filming makes for both inspiring and sobering watching. By the end of Somewhere Between, we’re left with the realization that these teenagers, like the majority of kids adopted from China, are at that brink of becoming adults. Their identity does not rest primarily on being anyone’s child anymore–their adoptive parents or birthparents. Raised to be strong, proud, and in most all cases open about their adoptions, these young adults will have plenty to say about who they are and how they got there.