Finding Identity in No Identity
Jennifer Godbold has spent her entire life on a quest to find identity, and sense of self as an adopted child. The daughter of a Vietnamese woman, and an unnamed American soldier, she was brought to the United States during the Vietnam War. She was adopted by a southern family in Columbia, South Carolina and has known very little of her background in Vietnam.
Jennifer was provided excellent care, and the best of education, mainly private schools. “I have a very loving family, one who took in a complete stranger,” she states. Yet growing up, and throughout most of her adulthood she privately struggled with “being different.” It was obvious to Jennifer that she looked different than her family, and peers at school. Her only interaction with Vietnamese culture was a family that befriended hers as a young child. “They were not around for long though, they moved away and that’s the last time I had contact with Vietnamese people,” Jennifer states.
She admittedly felt “singled out” at times in her frustration in finding her sense of self when being reminded by family members that she was adopted. A poem given to her by a family member titled “Lost History” initially brought her a sense of dread and hurt. She has since made peace with this poem and embraces it as part of her life’s truth. Her family was not aware at the time that Jennifer was struggling internally.
The internal struggle Jennifer refers to “as a void.” It’s not quite anger, not frustration but more of a sense of uncertainty. Something simple as a doctor’s appointment is always a painful reminder to Jennifer that her history is unknown. She cannot answer basic questions including: “does your family have a history of heart disease?” or “has anyone in your family had cancer?” She also wonders if she has biological brothers and sisters, grandparents, or cousins.
What is known about Jennifer’s adoption, is stored in a manilla file folder given to her by her adoptive mother. Within its contents are documents from Vietnam releasing her to the United States, immunization reports, a citizenship certificate, along with family photographs, and letters between family members announcing her arrival. One brief letter researching her past in Vietnam sheds little light on her biological parents. Her mother willingly agreed to the adoption, and the father failed to make 6 months (consecutive) support payments nor show up to claim the child once the adoption was announced. Jennifer was officially declared an abandoned child in the case of her biological father.
The internet has helped Jennifer learn about her country of origin, and it’s culture. She is undecided if she wants to visit Vietnam personally. She has been provided the option before by a family member who visits the area for work purposes. Understandably she would want the trip to involve emotional support, whether it be a friend or family member who would agree to visit the area without distractions. “I think yes, it could give me some closure, but I also don’t know if it’s necessary,” she stated.
Jennifer has recently reconnected with her faith in Christianity and feels that when the time is right, she will be provided answers. She also accepts the possibility that it may not be her quest in life to find such answers. “I don’t really talk about my adoption, this is the first time I’ve really sat down to be open about it.” she stated. Until then she finds comfort in her faith. She hopes that her interview will help other adopted children and parents in understanding that finding “sense of self” or identity when identity is not known is common.
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