Annalisse Harlow

Editor’s note: Annalise Harlow is a recent graduate of Sacramento State University and a current student in the M.A. program in Asian American Studies at San Francisco State. Born in the Guangdong province of China, Annalise was adopted as an infant by White American parents and grew up in El Dorado County, California. Annalise’s identity and lived experiences as an Asian American international adoptee has been fundamental in igniting her passion to pursue Asian American studies and organize around the broader movement for ethnic studies. As an aspiring ethnic studies educator, Annalise is looking to continue her studies in graduate school.

Chinese American history is a topic that I had struggled to see myself in for many years. As a Chinese American adoptee, I have often felt unsure whether the stories of the first Chinese immigrants or even the wave of 1960s Chinese immigrants were stories that I could identify with. In my mind, while I felt connected to the Chinese American community, I still felt separated by the fact that those stories of triumph, loss, struggle, and perseverance, were not the stories that I was raised with. I grew up aware of my Chinese roots and aware of my Chinese face, but when I presented my family tree in class, I spoke of the potato famine of Ireland. It was the potato famine that brought my father’s Irish ancestors to America and that would eventually lead to me. As this was the family story that I clung to, Chinese American history felt far away.

My summer internship with the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California in 2022 began one month after I graduated with my bachelor’s degree. Of course, this meant that the summer was filled with many lost and confused emotions. Amidst all of the confusion, I found a connection to Chinese American history that I had long given up on. Linking Our Lives presented a foundation for which I could begin to build my relationship with Chinese American history. The experiences of Chinese American women in Los Angeles in the 1920s and 1930s, while foreign to my own family stories, were not unknown to me. Chinese international adoption under the one-child policy was a complex and highly gendered phenomenon. Linking Our Lives gave me something that I did not even know existed, which was an understanding of Chinese culture and how it impacted Chinese women, both in China and in America – and myself. While Chinese culture is undoubtedly multifaceted, the circumstances surrounding my adoption were often reduced to a single statement, which was, “In Chinese culture, they prefer sons”. In the Linking Our Lives interviews with Chinese American women, they discussed what it meant to be a daughter, a wife, and a mother in their Chinese American households. They discussed their father’s attitudes towards them as they were growing up, why it was that sons were often preferred, and how, in many cases, gender preference eventually faded away. I think that somewhere in my mind, the narrative of Chinese international adoption misled me to understand that maybe Chinese daughters were not “good enough” for their families. While the conscious part of my brain would strongly argue with the very notion that Chinese daughters are not “good enough”, it is always the subconscious that needs the reminder. Linking Our Lives serves as a reminder to us all that the experiences of daughters, wives, and mothers, across all cultures, are perhaps the most important to document as they possess perspective and memory that is often untold, but never unknown. The impact of Linking Our Lives is continuously demonstrated as even after nearly a century from which the voices featured were first born, there is still an audience that listens.